The Challenge Of Attempting To Negotiate Online

Online negotiating is different than negotiating face-to-face
Online negotiating is different than negotiating face-to-face
Image Credit: Wies van Erp

Welcome to the modern world that we are all living in! In the old days, if you wanted to negotiate with someone you had to show up, sit down at the negotiation table, and then proceed to use your negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to have a lengthy discussion with them. In our modern times, this is no longer necessary – we can now negotiate online. However, as negotiators we need to understand that negotiating online is very different from negotiating in person. There are different challenges that we are going to have to be prepared to deal with. Despite the fact that we’ll be negotiating online, we are still going to be looking for ways to create both value and rapport with the other side.

Challenges Associated With Negotiating Online

The challenge of finding ways to connect with the other side is something that negotiators have been dealing with since the beginning of time. International negotiators understand that they are facing significant challenges because of the differences between cultures. They know that they need to take the time to research the environment that the other side will be coming from in order to find ways to bridge the gap between the two different cultures that will be attempting to reach a deal at the negotiating table.

When we sit down with the other side in order to negotiate with them in person, we understand that we need to take the time to try to better understand them. This can include important social norms. Social norms encompass such things as the other side’s body language, their manners, and perhaps even their physical appearance. Taking all of these into account can assist you in guiding your behavior and making the negotiating process easier. When we negotiate online, none of these will be available to us.

The environment in which a negotiation takes place can also play a role in determining the outcome. When we are able to make use of a common environment then this can make understanding on both sides easier. When we negotiate over the phone, a number of the cues that we can use during a face-to-face negotiation are not available to us. However, there are other ways that we can determine the mood and intent of the other side. There are things that we can pick up on such as the other side’s speed, intensity and any inflections that they use. These items, when taken together, can provide us with useful social information that we need to conduct a successful negotiation. Once again, when we are negotiating online, even these more limited cues will not be available to us.

How To Negotiate On The Internet

If we can agree that we feel comfortable when we sit down at a negotiating table with the other side, then it is now time for us to find out how we can negotiate online and, perhaps more importantly, how we can go about building rapport with the other party who will be remotely located. The big question is how do we go about translating the rapport building and social cues that we normally use to online negotiating?

When we are negotiating online, we are at a distinct disadvantage. The social norms that are so important in face-to-face negotiations are not available to us. The only cues available are words typed on a screen. In this case we are going to have a real challenge trying to reciprocate the other side’s style. Online our style is going to be based on how the other side interprets what we write to them. Do we use a great deal of capital letters when we send the other side email? Do we use emoticoms to communicate what we are currently feeling? Or do we fill our communications with small talk such as the current state of the weather? These are all matters of personal preference.

What’s more, the speed of electronic communication lends itself to short, direct messages. This lack of finesse may be fine for brief, factual exchanges but becomes a handicap in collaborative negotiations requiring reflection and discussion and complicates negotiator strategies on how to overcome cultural barriers in communication. When we are negotiating in person we tend to reveal information honestly and the other side both believes and acts on that information. Online negotiating is different. People tend to hold back their private information. When they do open up, the other side is often leery about responding in kind. Studies have shown that information exchanged over electronic media such as e-mail is less likely to be true, less likely to be relevant and clear, and therefore less informative and useful than similar information exchanged face to face. As we all struggle to keep up with the constant flow of electronic data, it’s not surprising that trusting, collaborative online negotiations are rare.

What All Of This Means For You

Most negotiators are comfortable with negotiating face-to-face. We know how to show up, sit down, and then spend the rest of the principled negotiation attempting to read the other side in order to determine exactly what they are thinking. Even if we find ourselves negotiating with someone over the phone, we still have a number of cues that we can pick up on in order to find out what they are really feeling. However, negotiating online is completely different and we don’t have the same signals to work with.

International negotiators have to overcome the differences between cultures. When we sit down to negotiate with someone face-to-face we are able to tap into a number of different social norms in order to determine what the other side is trying to communicate to us. Even when we are negotiating over the phone, we have things that we can pick up on in order to understand what the other side is looking for. All of these communication tools go away when we are negotiating online. How we type our messages and what types of content we put into our messages can play a key role in communicating to the other side how we are feeling. We need to remember that people tend to hold back their private information when they are negotiating online.

There is no question about it, negotiating online is difficult to do correctly. It differs considerably from the types of negotiations that we are used to. We need to understand what information will not be available to us during an online negotiation and then realize the importance of the information that we will be given. Take care during your next online negotiation to make sure that you really understand what the other side is trying to communicate to you and you’ll be able to avoid any mix ups.

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

Question For You: When you find yourself negotiating online, how can you discover more information about the person that you will be negotiating with?

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