The Impact That A Telephone Can Have On A Negotiation

A telephone is often NOT a negotiator's best friend
A telephone is often NOT a negotiator’s best friend
Image Credit: Tim G. Photography

What a wonderful age we are living in! We have the ability to watch 500 TV channels at any time of the day, we can hop on a plane and get to almost any corner of the globe in a matter of hours and, even better, we can get in touch with almost anyone at any time simply by placing a phone call to them. This has dramatically altered how negotiations are being performed. Has it made them better or worse for us?

Can You Say Distraction?

It can be all too easy to become focused on the telephone device itself. When we’re talking about negotiations, it can be helpful to take a step back and understand just exactly where the power of the telephone comes from. The simple fact is that none of us can accurately predict when we might receive our next phone call. They can arrive unexpectedly and then all of a sudden we find ourselves in the middle of a negotiation.

Anything that disrupts a negotiation can spell doom for your chances of getting what you want out of the negotiation. Generally speaking we work very, very hard to make sure that nothing will derail our negotiation no matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being used. However, if things are not going our way during a negotiation, then we may actively start looking for ways to create a disruption in order to change what is being talked about.

What you need to realize is that the other side of the table may be working to disrupt your negotiations. It’s actually pretty easy to derail a train of thought and this can quickly change the atmosphere of the negotiations that you are currently involved in. What this means for you is that you are going to have to make an extra effort to remain focused on the tasks at hand even when there are disruptions going on all around you. As hard as this is to do, it gets even harder when there is a telephone involved.

The Curse Of The Telephone

I’d be willing to say that the telephone is one of the most dangerous devices ever invented. At least when it comes to trying to wrap up a negotiation. The important thing to realize is that if you know about it and understand the impact that it can have, you can negate a lot of its impact; however, most negotiators don’t; know how to go about doing this. Don’t even get me started on mobile phones!

The biggest impact that a telephone can have on your next negotiation is that it can really speed things up. Think about how a negotiation normally proceeds: we schedule a time, we all get together, and we talk. However, if you start to use a telephone to conduct your negotiation, suddenly everything speeds up. A good question to ask yourself is how long does your typical negotiation last? Hours, days, weeks? Now ask yourself how long a typical business phone call lasts – maybe an hour at the maximum. See what I mean?

One of the biggest drawbacks to using the phone to conduct a negotiation is that it’s going to force you and the other side to move much faster than you normally do. This will be in a marked contrast to how a face-to-face meeting would unfold. I’m more than willing to admit that I have a limited ability to talk on a phone for a long time. Once into a call, very soon I’m already thinking about how I might be able to wrap things up and get off of the phone. Clearly this places me at a disadvantage. It also means that there is a very real chance that I’m going to end up with less information than I need about this deal. Understanding what is going on is the key to preventing the phone from working against you and making it work for you.

What All Of This Means For You

As negotiators, we like to think that we are in control of our negotiations. However, one of the most important factors that we’re never in control of is just exactly how fast a principled negotiation is going. The arrival of telephone technology has forever altered how negotiations are done. Phones speed things up and they can very quickly get out of control.

A telephone is just one form of a distraction. Unless things are not going our way in a negotiation, we really don’t want there to be any distractions while we are negotiating. Instead, we want to be able to maintain our focus even when the world around us starts to fill with distractions. We need to understand that a phone is a distraction and it can change how we conduct a negotiation – it can speed things up. If we are aware of this, we can make telephone work for us, not against us.

We can’t make phones go away. They are powerful tools that can in some cases help us to move things along quicker. However, we need to understand that phones can also act as a distraction when we are in a negotiation and we need to work diligently to make sure that we don’t get distracted. Keep your mind on the task at hand and you can make the phone your ally, not your enemy.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: Can you think of a situation where it would be better to conduct a negotiation on a phone rather than in person?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Let’s face it, just about every phone call that we receive is an interruption. When we are engaged in a negotiation, this can be a real inconvenience. I mean really, who can say “no” to a phone call? As disruptive as this can be, this might also be yet another tool that we can use in order to steer a negotiation in the direction that we want it to go. Could a phone call be both a friend and a foe at the same time?