Who Will Be Listening In On Your Next Negotiation?

by drjim on March 4, 2016

Do you know who is listening in on your next negotiation?

Do you know who is listening in on your next negotiation?
Image Credit: Stephen Dann

In a typical negotiation you sit down at a table and the other side sits down across from you. You can see them, they can see you. All of the discussions that happen during the negotiation can be watched and listened to by everyone in the room. Often times, we’ll direct our conversation to different people on the other side of the table depending on what is being discussed. When you get involved in a negotiation that is occurring over the phone, this all changes.

Who’s There?

When we are on the phone, we’re talking with a person on the other end. Assuming that we’ve not been told that we are on a speakerphone and that there are other people there, we naturally assume that only the person that we are talking with can hear what we are saying. It turns out that this is a dangerous assumption. You really don’t know who is on the other end of your call (because you can’t see who is there) and there is no way to know what their role is.

You would think that you would know everyone who is within earshot of your call because the other side would tell you. However, that’s not the case. Even if you ask, the other side may not be truthful about who is listening in on your conversation. If someone that you don’t get along with is on the other line and you make a disparaging comment about them during the negotiations, there is a good chance that you will have unknowingly soured that relationship even more.

When you don’t know who is on the phone call where all of this negotiating is happening, you will find yourself at a significant disadvantage. If you were meeting with the other side face-to-face, things would be different. You would be able to see who was there. Both sides would feel comfortable talking about any parties that were not present in the room. However, since you don’t really know who is there, you need to realize that another person may be present and they may be writing notes that tell him or her what to say next and which are being passed to the person with whom you are talking!

Playing Defense

What all of this uncertainty means for you is that you are always going to have to be playing defense when you are on the phone and are negotiating. You won’t know who is controlling the negotiation. What you are going to have to do is to always assume that there is some other person listening in on your negotiations.

This means that you are going to have to be very careful about what you say. Remember, if you start to feel that you are operating at too much of a disadvantage, then you can always request a face-to-face meeting to continue the negotiations.

The good news here is that this uncertainty is really a two-way street. It turns out that the other side can’t tell who is in the room with you either. What this means is that if you are engaged in a telephone negotiation with someone, you can bring anyone that you need into the room with you and you don’t have to announce to the other side that they are there. This other person could be your lawyer, your accountant, your company’s president, or just about anyone. During the negotiation they can be scribbling notes and passing them to you.

What All Of This Means For You

Negotiating on the phone can be a dangerous thing to do. Although you think that you know who you are talking with, you may be mistaken. Additionally you may know know exactly who is listening in on your conversation.

When you don’t know who you are negotiating with, then you are at a significant disadvantage. You can’t be sure who is listening to what you are saying or what they are telling each other. If you were in the room with them, you’d know who was there and you’d be able to observe all of the communication between the different parties. On the phone you’re going to have to watch what you say. However, since the other side can’t see you either, then you can include more people than you tell them about.

Clearly if you can avoid it, you don’t want to negotiate over the phone. The risk that comes from not knowing who you will be talking with is just too great. However, that being said, there will be times that you will need to conduct at least part of a negotiation over the phone. Just be aware that you don’t know who may be listening in on your conversation and so be careful what you say. Try to use these opportunities to your advantage and have as many members of your team available to you when conducting a phone negotiation.

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

Question For You: At what point do you think that you should stop negotiating over the phone and insist on a face-to-face meeting?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Every negotiation has its own unique momentum. No matter what negotiation styles or negotiating techniques are being used, things just seem to be moving along at a pace that suits that particular negotiation. Sometimes it will be fast and other times it will be slow. However, the one thing that you don’t want to happen during a negotiation no matter what its momentum is will be for an interruption to show up. If this occurs, then you’ve got a setback on your hands and you’re going to have to deal with it.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Matthew Bradshaw, C.P.M. March 6, 2016 at 8:06 pm

I agree with you fundamentally, however, in this day and age there are negotiation being performed over the telephone and through e-mail regularly. I have had many sessions that could only be done over the phone especially when doing international negotiations. In todays world we don’t always have a choice.

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