There are a lot of things that are easy to do when working from home, like getting to the office or figuring out where you’re going to eat lunch. But one of the things that seems a lot more complicated these days, is figuring out how to negotiate when you’re not face to face. In person, you can gauge more than simply someone’s tone or facial expression. In person, you can also tell when they’re starting to lose the patience and have mentally moved onto the next thing.
Recently, the NFL held their first virtual draft and most of us got to spend some quality time with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in his man cave. Gone was the pomp and spectacle, and in its place was a fairly mellow event and a great lesson learned. In an interview with the L.A. Times, Goodell explained what made the event work out as well as it did “The most significant thing is, everybody is doing the same thing. It’s not like one team is going to be in their facility, and another team has got to sit and go through all this other stuff.” At the risk of using a sports metaphor after a sports example, the NFL made sure the playing field was leveled. It’s a good lesson to incorporate before starting any negotiation virtually- make sure all the players are coming at it from the same place, in this case, it’s probably their home office.
If you have an upcoming negotiation, you might want to read these tips before hopping on that next call.
“You can learn a lot from someone’s tone,” said Alexandra Carter, Columbia Law School professor and author of ASK FOR MORE: Ten Questions to Negotiate Anything, “Are they hesitant? Doubtful? Annoyed?” You don’t have to know the person very well to know what their tone is telling you. “Remember that in negotiation, everything — tone, body language, silence — is communication,” Carter elaborated. “If I’m on the phone during a challenging negotiation and someone’s voice is trembling as we’re negotiating, that usually means fear or anger.”
No matter what is motivating that strong emotion, your goal should be to reassure them that you’re a fair negotiation partner. For Carter, that means responding “not by calling it out, but with reassurance.” Carter takes control of an emotionally fraught situation by offering immediate assurance that the ultimate goal is both negotiation partners being as happy as possible with the end result. She might say “I want you to know that my goal here today is to figure something out that’s going to work for both of us. I’m your partner in this.”
Try for some face time
A big deal is really a big deal. For that reason, you should try whenever possible to find a way to look at your partner in negotiation, whether that means via Google hangout or Zoom or the visual communication method of your choice. “For an important negotiation, I would always try for a Zoom call,” Carter said. It offers you extra visual cues. She said “There is huge power in being able to see someone’s body language and interpret their silence. Plus, it helps create more of a connection that can aid in negotiation.” While some of us are great on the phone (points to myself) others struggle when unable to see the person they’re speaking with. Carter explains, “When we can’t see people’s faces, we are less likely to trust them.”
But there are exceptions. If you’re a person prone to anxiety or if you feel shy or start to trip over your words when facing someone, this might not be the time to push through your fear. Carter said, “The only exception to this (a Zoom call or similar) is if you’re facing a negotiation that’s making you extremely anxious, and you don’t want someone to be able to read your body language.”
Ah, negotiation plot twist. For nervous negotiators, Carter suggests taking the time to think through possible outcomes as well. “For anxious negotiators who need to talk money, I have them write out answers to a lot of possible questions and have those at their fingertips as they pick up the phone.”
Consider a go-between
If you feel like your negotiations are going nowhere fast, ask your negotiation partner if they’d consider having an unbiased third-party taking part as well. “Any decision can be made virtually, but the need for a facilitator is even higher than with in-person meetings,” Douglas Ferguson, founder of Voltage Control and author of Beyond the Prototype. Ferguson explained that “Having an objective party is not only helpful for all participants to locate a win-win, but the facilitator can guide the negotiation with activities that consider all the parts of the deal.” This holds true even in team negotiating with one person representing many. Ferguson said, “This way, each party in the negotiation can properly understand their needs and fears.” If it’s a major negotiation, it’s a good idea to have several practice sessions and even to allow team members to
weigh all their options and then vote.
One last thing
Whether you’re miserable or thrilled with the way your negotiations went, or just want to keep the door open for another go-round, it’s okay to add a postscript to the conversation. “I always like to end my calls with a summary,” Carter advises. It can be as easy as repeating back “what you have discussed, anything you’ve agreed on, and any work left to do.” And it’s okay to curb that killer instinct and find a way to be extra kind or gentle right now as well. “During this time of crisis, I always like to thank people for their time and send good wishes for their health,” Carter explains. “Remember that your adversary at the table — whether a landlord over rent or a manager over salary — is often your partner once the deal is done.”