online negotiation in a time of social distance
The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced face-to-face meetings and travel, but deal making is still possible. Here you will find the best tips how to adopt for negotiating virtually.

Negotiations prosper on physical presence. Shared coffee, handshakes, smiles and eye-contact as well as angry voices and long meetings in poorly ventilated conference rooms are everyday tools of deal making and with good reason.

Negotiators who meet in person achieve better results than those who do remote negotiations. Research shows that in F2F negotiations we receive priceless nonverbal and verbal signals, such as body language and tone of voice. This helps us to understand motives and is responsible for building trust.

During the last weeks, because of the Corona Pandemic these negotiation best practices will need to be set aside. Negotiating in person is no longer a safe option. At the same time that doesn’t mean, that negotiating can’t continue. Thankfully we have a set of communication media available to us: from phone calls to videoconferencing to text messages. We can keep doing business even when we work from home.

Here you find 5 tips that will help you to conduct effective online negotiations:

1. Delay complex negotiations.
If in-person relationship building and due diligence are required, you should postpone complex talks. At a distance smaller deals are certainly feasible with creativity. They might be crucial for business struggling to survive in the middle of the economic downturn. Reach out for current and potential business partners to find out if you can support each other get through these tough times by doing business together. Be creative.

2. Switch between different communication media.
Even when working from home, you have a variety of media at your disposal: phone calls, conference calls, video conferencing, emails and text messages. Which to choose? Pick the tool that best suits to your present task. A video conference might be helpful at an early stage of your negotiation, when you want to focus on building trust. Later in the process emails and other file sharing apps might be best for exchanging information and detailed proposals. You can work together on documents without time pressure. Whenever you have a spontaneous idea to share you might try a WhatsApp or text message. BUT: Whenever you feel irritated or you are confused: don’t hesitate to pick up the phone to sort things out. Be flexible.

3. Demonstrate your trust in them.
Because of the lack of body language and tone of voice, written communication can easily be misunderstood. By the way emojis can substitute part of emotional reaction! In this time of uncertainty many people are anxious. Misunderstanding and conflicts might be all the more likely. If your counterpart goes silent, don’t assume they are ignoring you and don’t take it personally if a message seems abrupt or rude. Instead check out if they and their loved ones are well and offer your help if it’s necessary. Keep our shared humanity top of mind. That will build trust and more durable agreements.

4. Be collaborative.
During our current crisis people seem to be torn between their best and worst instincts. We see examples of communities that mobilize to help sick and elderly and at the same time we notice panic-buying and hoarding. In this mode of being highly alert, we might behave similar in an online negotiation. Please don’t forget: Yet negotiators who take a cooperative mindset and try to achieve result that satisfy both sides need outperform those with a win-lose attitude. So, don’t forget to ask our counterpart about their deeper interests. Share your underlying interests with them for a deeper understanding of what’s really important to you and them to create value.

5. Don’t set remote as standard for future negotiations.  
After social distancing restrictions will be lifted and after corona virus runs its course, negotiators will once again be able to meet in face-to face negotiations. There could be a risk: organization that have experienced the ease and cost saving of online negotiations, feel tempted to continue and keep deal making online. But don’t forget that virtual deal making leads to less efficient deals and that you should meet at least periodically to establish a good relationship and a strong bond to establish trust.

Remember: Even when we’re on different sides in an online negotiation, we ‘re all in this together. Behave ethical. Be kind. Stay happy and healthy.

Picture: Presentationload

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