Traps Caused By Negotiating On The Telephone

Be very careful when you start to negotiate on the phone
Be very careful when you start to negotiate on the phone
Image Credit: Christine und David Schmitt

Let’s face it – attempting to conduct a negotiation over the phone is really never a good idea. When we are negotiating face-to-face with someone, we are in control of the situation. We have our notes, we have our support staff, and we have the ability to look the other side of the table straight in the eye and determine what they are really thinking. When we move the negotiation to the phone, all of these things go away. Using the phone for a negotiation introduces a lot of traps that you need to be aware of.


Take just a moment and think about how one of your face-to-face negotiations generally goes. You spend some time thinking about the outcome that you would like to achieve from this negotiation. You then work your ways backwards to arrive at the starting point of the negotiation. What you now have is a workable agenda for you to follow. When someone calls you on the phone and launches into a negotiation with you, you don’t have the benefit of this preplanned agenda. You are at a disadvantage.

So how should you handle the situation where a person calls you up out of the blue and wants to negotiate with you? It’s actually fairly simple. What you are going to want to do is to ask them at the start of the conversation to tell you exactly what they are going to want to talk about. This is probably going to take awhile and during this time you are going to want to do nothing but listen to what they have to say. It will be ok to ask them to clarify a point if you don’t understand it, but other than that just make noises confirming that you’ve heard what they have said.

Once they have completed laying out the agenda for the call that they want to have with you, you need to tell them that right now is not the best time for you to have a call with them. Tell them that you’ll call them back when you free up. Once you get them off of the line, you can take as long as you like to call them back: an hour, a day, or a week. When you do finally call them back, you’ll have an agenda for the call and you will have caught them off guard and this will place you in a position of power.

The Things That We Forget

Negotiating is hard work. There are a lot of different things that get discussed and negotiations can stretch over a long time. What this means for us is that it is all too easy for us to forget some important point during a negotiation. When we are negotiating face-to-face, we attempt to solve this problem by taking careful notes or assigning the job of scribe to one of our team members.

In the world of telephone negotiations, who calls who often determines who in in charge of the negotiation. This is why you are always going to want to be the one who is placing the call. The person who receives the call generally turns out to be the less organized person. As you talk with the person that you’ve called, what you are going to discover is that as they talk more and more, they will start to forget things – this is what happens when you are not prepared for a phone negotiation.

What you are going to want to do is to make sure that you are always ready to negotiate. You are going to have to train yourself to be organized. This means that you are going to want to have easy access to an agenda for the call, any notes that you might need, a calculator if that is what you’ll need, and a way to take notes during the call. You need to understand that the more prepared you are, the better your chances of getting what you want out of the negotiations are.

What All Of This Means For You

When it comes to negotiating, the phone is not your friend. However, in the day and age in which we are living, we need to understand that more and more negotiations are taking place via the phone. What this means for us is that we now need to adapt our styles and learn to avoid telephone traps.

When we negotiate face-to-face, we always have an agenda to follow. This is not the case when someone calls us up and wants to negotiate via phone. We need to ask them what they want to discuss and after they have shared that with us tell them that now is not a good time for us. This will allow us to call them back at some point in time and will put us in the driver’s seat. When we do call them back, we’ll be prepared and we will have taken steps to make sure that we won’t forget anything.

We can’t stop negotiating on the phone – there’s just too many of them and it’s just too easy to do. However, we can realize that there are a number of traps that you can fall into when you are negotiating on the phone and we can take steps to avoid them. Keep these in mind and your next phone negotiation will turn out better for you!

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

Question For You: How long do you think that you can wait before returning a call to negotate a deal?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I don’t like to use phones when I’m negotiating. There, I said it. In this day and age where Apple seems to come out with a new must-have phone almost every other week, it seems like blasphemy to say that you don’t like talking on the phone, but when it comes to negotiating I believe that phones suffer from a huge disadvantage. There is no face-to-face.