Why Phones Are A Bad Way To Conduct A Negotiation

Don't use a phone when you are negotiating!
Don’t use a phone when you are negotiating!
Image Credit: Nic Adler

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.

The Importance Of Being Able To See The Other Side

During a negotiation that is being conducted on the phone, all that you are going to be able to react to is going to be the other side of the table’s voice. What you won’t be seeing is their face and believe it or not, the face is how all of us communicate a great deal of information. Along with not being able to see the other side’s face, you also won’t be able to see their body during the negotiations.

What this means for you is that an entire form of conversation that normally occurs during a negotiation has just been removed from the equation. You won’t be able to read their body language in order to determine what they are really trying to tell you. Just imagine being involved in a negotiation where you could see what everyone was saying but you could not hear them. This is very similar to the loss of information that you’ll be experiencing when you negotiate on the phone.

The reason that having the ability to see the people that we are negotiating with is so very important is because we use this information to see the interplay between people on the other side of the table. We use this information to understand the effect that our message is having on them. Likewise, we’ll use how the other side is visually reacting to what we are telling them to determine just exactly how much conviction they have for each of the arguments that they make during the negotiation.

The Invisible Negotiator

I hate to tell you this, but if you would like your next negotiation to end in either a deadlock or a “no” from the other side, then I would recommend that you use the phone to conduct your negotiations. The problem with the phone is that it makes it very, very difficult for you to make a good argument to the other side in order to change their mind. They can’t see you so it’s that much harder to believe you.

Since you can’t see how the other side is reacting to what you are saying, all of a sudden it becomes much easier for the other side to start to play power games with you. When this happens, there is a very good chance that you won’t even be aware that it’s going on.

One example of what may be going on while you are negotiating with someone over the phone is that comments that you make on the phone may cause the person that you are talking with to exchange glances or gestures with someone else who is in the room with them. If you were there with them, then you would have seen this; however, since you are on the phone this exchange is completely hidden from you. This “missing information” saddles you with a very big handicap that will only become larger if you find yourself negotiating by yourself with a group of people.

What All Of This Means For You

Yes, a phone might be a handy way to get in touch with a loved one or a family member when you need to talk with them. However, it turns out that when it comes to negotiating, a phone is not your friend. The simple fact that by using a phone to negotiate, you eliminate the face-to-face component of a negotiation changes everything.

When you can’t see the other party, an important line of communication has been broken. When we can’t see the other side of the table, we lose the understanding that the interplay of our words are having on them. When the other side of the table can’t see you, then it becomes much harder for them to believe you. Likewise, when you can’t see them, you lose the ability to monitor their body language and understand the impact that your words are having on them.

I’m not going to say that you should never negotiate over the phone – the darn things are just ubiquitous these days. However, what I am going to say is that you’ll want to minimize the amount of negotiating that you do over them. Stay away from trying to close deals on the phone – you really need to be able to look into the other side’s eyes before you agree to sign on the dotted line.

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

Question For You: If someone calls you and wants to negotiate with you on the phone, what should you do?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

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.