What Role Can Text Messaging Play In A Negotiation?

Do short text messages play any role in a negotiation?
Do short text messages play any role in a negotiation? Image Credit: Catero Revolution

As negotiators, we need to be ready to use our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to deal with anyone during a negotiation. What this means is that we have to be ready to deal with people who are very angry, resistant, and even sullen. For that matter, we also have to be ready to deal with negotiators who are very young. This can be a big deal for us simply because the younger a negotiator is, the more differently they may view the world from the way that we do. A good example of this may be text messaging. Does it play any role in a modern negotiation?

Say Hello To Negotiating By Text Messages

Forget the somewhat boring world of business negotiations and instead spend just a moment thinking about what police negotiators have to deal with. In their negotiation training, police and professional hostage negotiators are taught skills that will help them to defuse tense situations over the course of long phone calls. These skills can include such things as engaging in active listening, determining the person’s emotions from his or her inflection, and trust building.

If you think that dealing with young negotiators makes your life more complicated, just imagine what these negotiators have to put up with. These crisis negotiators are currently being put to the test by young criminal suspects and others in crisis. The challenge comes because the other side’s first instinct increasingly seems to be texting rather than talking. A police negotiation trainer told the Associated Press that the usual negotiation skills he teaches don’t translate to texting, such as emotional labeling. Emotional labeling happens in the form of a statement such as “You sound angry.” Without verbal cues, it becomes much more difficult for a negotiator to understand the emotional state of the person in crisis, and misunderstandings are common. As negotiators we need to understand that words are only 7 percent of total communication.

Negotiators need to understand that members of the “millennial generation” – people born between 1984 and the early 1990s – are often more comfortable with short digital messaging, such as text messages, than they are with face-to-face discussion. When a police negotiator encounters a hostage taker or other person in crisis who insists on texting, crisis negotiators, with no obvious alternative, have little choice but to comply. As a result, negotiation trainers are beginning to teach their trainees to address the specific challenges of negotiating a crisis via text. What we need to understand is that their chief goal: get the troubled individual to stop typing and put the phone to their ear.

Learning To Deal With A New Generation Of Negotiators

As an example of how the police use text messages to negotiate, an incident that occurred back in 2011 in Kalamazoo, Michigan shows the power of using this new form of communication. Police negotiator Andres Wells was unprepared when a suspect in a gas station robbery and high-speed car chase who was threatening suicide ignored his phone calls. The suspect instead sent a text message to the policeman. At the time, in his three years as a police negotiator, Wells had never even considered the idea of negotiating via text.

After an initial text, in which he asked the police to contact his girlfriend, the suspect was initially unresponsive to the police. But Wells continued typing to him and the suspect finally admitted that he would like some water. Over time he eventually let down his guard and agreed to accept a phone call from Wells. Fifteen minutes later, he surrendered to the police. The drawbacks of conducting crisis negotiations via text parallel the same challenges of conducting business negotiations via email. Negotiation researchers refers to email as an “impoverished” mode of communication. It has been labeled this way because it lacks the visual and vocal cues that foster understanding and trust in face-to-face talks.

Text messaging during a negotiation has been studied. In a game played by “millennial generation” undergraduate and MBA students that included elements of negotiation, it was found that single-line computer messages elicited more cooperative behavior than did in-person communication. The ubiquity of electronic communication during their lifetime may lead younger negotiators to naturally prefer e-mail and text messages instead of face-to-face meetings. And it seems that in some cases, they may perform unexpectedly well in these impoverished environments. Older negotiators should learn some lessons from these findings.

What All Of This Means For You

Negotiators need to be ready to deal with anyone that they meet at the negotiating table. This includes people who may be hostile to them as well as negotiators who may be younger than them. If we find ourselves in a principled negotiation with a negotiator who is younger, then there is a very good possibility that text messaging may play a big role in their life. This may be one of their preferred means of communication. What this means is that we need to be ready to deal with this.

The need to be able to negotiate with someone via text message is a skill that the police have been forced to develop. The police realize that when they have to negotiate with a suspect via text messages they will have less information about the suspect to deal with. When dealing with younger people, texting is a normal form of communication. This is requiring police departments to learn how to negotiate via text. There are numerous examples of police departments having to use text messages to conduce a negotiation. A study was done that revealed that for some younger negotiators better deals can be produced when they are allowed to negotiate via text.

Change is something that happens to all of us. The arrival of text message based negotiators was probably inevitable. Now that it has finally arrived, negotiators need to adjust to our new reality. We need to master this communication tool and understand how to read the person who is on the other end of the texting line. We’ll never have as much information as we would if we were meeting with them face-to-face, but if we can learn how to get the most out of text messaging we just might be able to use it to get the deal that we want.

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

Question For You: Can you think of anything that you should NOT do when texting someone during a negotiation?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When you enter into your next negotiation, what is it that you really want? I’m willing to say that your answer is “a deal” – after all, isn’t that what we all want? If that is what you want, just exactly how do you plan on going about making this happen? If you want to get the deal that you are looking for, you are going to have to come to your next negotiation prepared. This means that you’ve got homework to do before the negotiation starts. The big question that you have to answer is do you know how to go about preparing for your next negotiation?