Before the pandemic, most business negotiations were handled in person, but the last two years have dramatically changed how deals are made. Many negotiations will remain virtual even as the world opens up to more in-person interactions. As supply chains continue to experience volatility and pricing fluctuates, effective negotiation is more important than ever. Unfortunately, negotiating virtually tends to have poorer outcomes due to less effective communication and increased distrust between parties. But why?
Research has shown that compared to face-to-face interactions, those who negotiate online are less likely to reach deals, less likely to build rapport, and more likely to lose trust during the negotiation. Other studies have shown that people can be less cooperative in virtual settings because they feel less pressure to be polite. Virtual negotiations come with different challenges and should not be handled the same way as face-to-face meetings.
How to Improve Your Virtual Negotiation Skills
- Keep Groups Small – Conference calls and video meetings with four or more parties can quickly get off track. Be clear about who will attend, their role in the discussion, and who speaks when. It can be helpful to assign a moderator who will determine who speaks first in instances more than one person wants to be heard in the discussion. Talking over one another does little to advance negotiations and frustrate the other participants.
- Use a Bigger Screen – In a study about online bargaining and interpersonal trust, researchers found that communicating with cameras turned on is more effective. Interestingly, they also found that negotiators using a larger computer screen performed better than those on a smaller screen. The better that participants can see each other’s faces, the better the negotiation outcomes.
- Start with Connection – Take time for small talk and personal connection at the beginning of the meeting for better outcomes. Starting the conversation with humor can also increase trust between parties and better negotiations. Once you’ve taken the time to connect, you should clarify the agenda of the meeting and ensure no one will leave early or arrive later in the conversation. This helps everyone start with the same assumptions and will allow you to adjust the agenda if someone does need to leave early.
- Prepare Your Team – If you have other team members involved in the negotiation, ensure you are all on the same page about assigned tasks, methods of side communication, and how to handle surprises. For example, it’s best not to risk accidentally sending a private message to the entire group in the video chat, so make a plan for any side conversations between team members to be on a separate chat application or text message. Make a plan for how to respond to surprise questions or comments to ensure you appear aligned throughout the conversation.
- Prepare Yourself – Self-awareness is the secret superpower of any negotiator. If you are easily tempted to multitask during video calls, remove all distractions by turning off notifications and closing all tabs, including your email and calendar. If you are highly self-critical when you see yourself on camera, turn off the self-view in the video chat. Create an environment that allows you to focus on the negotiation and perform at your best.