By Lisa Botes
Negotiation Skills Digital Programme
We are all called on to negotiate multiple times a day, in both our personal and our professional lives. In a work context, we negotiate with colleagues, bosses, suppliers, service providers, external stakeholders, customers, and anyone else with whom a joint decision needs to be reached.
Effective negotiation skills will always be a business necessity. If you have innovative and incredible ideas, you need negotiation skills to sell them to your colleagues. If you’re the most skilled member of your team, you need negotiation skills to convince others of your approach and rationale. Even if you have the authority to call the shots, you need negotiation skills to bring others along and get their whole-hearted commitment. Regardless of the situation and no matter at which level you work in your organisation, the ability to influence others and negotiate outcomes daily is one of the most important skills you can possess.
The best negotiators know that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach, nor is there an ideal personality profile for a good negotiator. Successful negotiation is both an art and science – it is a merger of awareness (of self, organisational factors and others) and various interpersonal skills, such as communication and value creation. And, ultimately, effective negotiation is rooted in an approach and process that aims to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. Jointly positive results ensure healthy working relationships which are critical for future interdependent success.
Negotiation is complex because people have differing interests, priorities, motivations, outlooks and objectives. In a work context, daily negotiations are impacted by things like organisational politics, culture, hierarchy and business structure. And, as a final complicating factor, you will often find yourself needing to negotiate online – especially in this age of the “new normal”. The theory around online negotiation is, as yet, relatively unexplored. However, based on the theories of negotiation, negotiation best practice, my personal experience and anecdotal insights shared by my GIBS students, I’ve put together some tips for becoming an effective and successful daily online negotiator.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
As humans, we are wired and socially trained to read non-verbal cues. This is a critical component of expressing and interpreting messages correctly in any negotiation. It is estimated that a whopping 93% of our communication is non-verbal, in the form of body language and paralanguage. Body language, such as facial expressions, body movements, body placements and eye contact, makes up for 53% of the message we send. 40% of what we say is interpreted by our paralanguage, which includes the likes of voice quality, emotion, speaking rhythm, pitch, speed and stress points. That means a mere 7% of what we say is verbal! To account for this, it is best to have your video on and practise slightly emphasising positive body language and paralanguage.
FUN FACT: It is estimated that 37% of lies happen over the phone, where there is no paper trail and no ability to check body language against spoken words.
BECOME PROFICIENT IN PARALANGUAGE
Paralanguage is about HOW something is said, rather than WHAT is being said. In an interesting study done at Tufts University in the United States, it was found that doctors with a harsh tone of voice and a fast speaking pace were sued for malpractice more often. This was attributed to the perception of their bedside manner, and had nothing to do with their medical competence. This study supports the point that your paralanguage has the potential to derail your negotiation without you even being aware of it. Due to bandwidth limitations, among other reasons, many people choose to not use video in their online engagements, relying purely on paralanguage to compliment the content of the discussion.
Implementing the following paralanguage tips will likely improve the outcome of your online negotiation, with or without video:
- Vary Your Tone
- A monotonous voice is not only boring, it also sends a message of low confidence. Changing up your tone according to what you are saying indicates authority and communicates a sense of control.
- Hit the Right Notes
- Intonation (the way your voice rises and falls as you speak) control is a fantastic communication skill. When you’re stressed, the pitch and tone of your voice goes up at the end of your sentences. To drop your tone at the end of your sentences you will need to loosen the muscles around your vocal cords. As an added benefit, you will be forcing yourself to relax in the process.
- Get the Volume Right
- If your volume is too loud and you’re seen to be shouting, or too soft and you seem to be whispering, you are indicating a lack of emotional control. Taking note of your volume is more difficult than you might think because you may sound just right to yourself. Ask a friend or colleague to have a video call with you so that you can figure out the perfect volume for a clear and confident delivery.
- Turn Up the Exaggeration
- Since emotions are difficult to interpret online, you should slightly exaggerate your body language and paralanguage in an online negotiation. Focus on emphasising positive emotions such as enthusiasm, confidence and optimism.
- Steer Clear of Sarcasm and Irony
- The key to effective communication is clarity. Sarcasm and irony can easily be misinterpreted, and both are unprofessional. Try to keep your correspondence warm and authentic at all times.
WALK A TWO-WAY STREET
Workplace communication has become one of the most cited opportunities for personal and organisational improvement. Negotiation and communication are inextricably intertwined – it is not possible to negotiate without communication of some kind. As such, it stands to reason that effective communication contributes to effective negotiation.
Proficiency in writing and speaking does not correlate to being an effective communicator. Many people erroneously assume that once they have sent off the email or posted a memo, they have communicated. In fact, communication should be viewed as an interactive, two-way exchange of information and confirmation of all parties’ interpretation of the situation. And, to be effective as a sender or a receiver of messages, you must consistently take all parties’ viewpoints, interests and non-verbal cues into consideration as you shape and interpret the discussion. You should also take note of attitudes, skills, experience, or perceptions, and environmental factors such as sounds, sights and movement.
If your online negotiation is extensive, contentious or complicated, try breaking up into logical components that are scheduled at different times. Furthermore, try to keep the engagement short. This will give you and your negotiation counterpart time to reflect on and interpret the content. Follow each engagement with a written summary of your understanding to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Take care to ensure that this doesn’t cause frustrating delays, a break in momentum, or a loss of interest. And lastly, since unnecessary delays could be construed as time to conspire, it’s best to keep time between engagements short.
AVOID CROSS-CULTURAL ASSUMPTIONS
The difficulties of online negotiations can result in a higher tendency to make stereotypical assumptions. Harvard Law recommends these 3 tips to avoid cultural stereotyping:
- Research Your Counterpart’s Background and Experience
- This will give you an accurate picture of their level of expertise and will help you to focus on their professional offering, rather than their cultural background.
- Create a Diverse Negotiation Team
- Diversity is strength. By bringing together people of different backgrounds and lived experiences, you will be able to better navigate a diverse working environment and separate yourself from your cognitive biases. Plus, you can collaborate with your colleagues to set up a signal that indicates when you should call for a break so that they can give you some cultural insight that you may be unaware of.
- Make Sure You Understand All Correspondence
- If you aren’t certain of what is being said, reframe your questions or repeat what you think you heard and give your counterpart an opportunity to confirm or correct you.
PRACTICE EFFECTIVE LISTENING
Effective listening and focused attention can be a challenge in any meeting, and an online platform makes it even harder. However, you can take steps to maximise your attention capacity by:
- Setting yourself up in a quiet space where you’re less likely to be interrupted.
- Locating yourself in a space where there are minimal visual distractions.
- Using earphones to cut out as much surrounding noise as possible.
- Turning off unnecessary notifications, such as those for email and social media.
You never want your counterparts to feel as if they are not being listened to. If you’re able to engage in a quiet environment with little background noise, you could agree to leave your microphones on during the discussion. This allows you to affirm and acknowledge your counterpart with the occasional “Yes, I see” and “Ah, okay” in a natural way that maintains momentum.
Once your counterpart has made a proposition, provide feedback on what you’ve heard and understood. This is especially important in an online setting and allows you to avoid misunderstanding and misinterpretation, while keeping all parties engaged.
ONLY REVERT TO WRITTEN NEGOTIATION AS A LAST RESORT
Due to the discomfort that many people experience with in-person and video negotiation, people may be tempted to simply negotiate over email or other written, electronic platforms. You should absolutely avoid this unless you have no alternative. E-negotiators have been found to be less satisfied, less likely to collaborate, and less willing to negotiate with their counterpart in future. If you do have to use email be aware of the down sides so that you can manage them.
- Avoid humour, irony and sarcasm as these can easily be misconstrued over text.
- Prepare for an extended negotiation process as it often takes longer to build trust in e-negotiations.
- Counterparts in e-negotiation are perceived to have sinister or unsavoury motives more often than in face-to-face negotiations. This is because counterparts feel psychologically distant from one another and because, in written negotiations, the time delay between responses is often assumed as time to conspire. So, respond as quickly as possible and keep your communication as warm, open and clear as possible.