março 2020

How to maximise value during social distancing

Por Lloyd Barrett

Voltar para ideias

How to maximise value during social distancing

março 2020 Por Lloyd Barrett

Voltar para ideias


The closer you are physically to each other, the higher the degree of collaboration. So, how do we adjust in this new world where we plan and execute negotiations in social isolation?

The use of technology has been part of everyday communication across the globe for a long time, but now rather than an optional add on…it’s become mandatory. Meetings have been replaced with virtual conferences, conversations have been replaced with emails. Relationships have changed because of this new situation and not just with your counterpart but also with your own internal colleagues.

Let’s not forget that 90% of negotiation is in the planning and it’s rare that you would be doing this alone. One of the main pitfalls in negotiation is not gaining full alignment internally before embarking on a strategy. All of the research on effective teams suggests the biggest driver for collaboration is proximity.

The closer you are physically to each other, the higher the degree of collaboration. So, how do we adjust in this new world where we plan and execute negotiations in social isolation?

Negotiation has changed. While the psychology, tactics, and strategies of negotiating in person are well studied and practised, the answers to the questions raised by negotiating electronically are still unclear and are often contradictory. The research on email negotiations is predominantly focused on the theories of firstly, psychological “closeness” and secondly, the richness of media and information. These two theories present two main problems that need to be addressed:

  1. Lack of information (or richness of information)
  2. Lack of social cues (creating ambiguity in how to behave).

If the “richest” media is categorised as a face-to-face meeting - where feedback is immediate, social cues are clear, body language can be read, and tone of voice can be judged - then text and email is the lowest on the “richness” scale.

Holding negotiations in person allows a high level of perception and creates a psychological “closeness” between the two parties. This allows for the internal acknowledgement that the person on the other side of the table is in fact a person with social needs and puts the negotiator in a position where they can identify this and apply appropriate judgement.

Holding negotiations electronically removes this psychological “closeness” and can demote the party to merely an entity. Many social cues are filtered out and creating a meaningful relationship with the party becomes very difficult.

Studies have shown that when negotiating electronically, people often display more aggressive behaviour due to lack of social cues.

Ambiguous information conveyed through this medium is more likely to be interpreted as negative, and therefore more likely to provoke a negative response and conflict.

Due to the nature of email, it allows the writer to pen long responses, perhaps obsessing over them - re-writing and re-reading, and this can lead to an over-commitment to one’s own position making it harder to agree to concession trading. The lack of ability to conduct back-and-forth negotiation at speed further strengthens this course of action.

However, there are also benefits to negotiating electronically. The lack of social cues, time constraints, and perceived power, removes pressure from the negotiator. This results in the negotiator being allowed to freely explore ideas, adjust strategy, gather more information internally, and provide a far more considered approach to their next input to the negotiation.

Aside from the social effects, negotiating through email and messaging encourages a higher level of thinking, mitigating the concerns of getting tied up in the details of the deal – however, it is often as a result, a much slower process and promotes juggling multiple ‘open negotiations’ at the same time with no clear beginning or end to the dialogue.

Being able to step away and freely explore ideas within your team can often result in more creative ways to find value, as long as you can navigate the challenges of remote planning.

The utilisation of electronic communication is another tool the skilled negotiator should have in their toolbox. Knowing when it is appropriate to step away from the inbox and initiate a face-to-face video call, and vice versa, can be a highly effective method of getting the outcome you want.

It is important to be consciously competent in the use of this medium when negotiating - if relationship building is what is needed and face to face is just not an option - initiate a video conference. If a more strategic and creative solution needs to be found, consider how you can create a forum to collaborate internally to allow further thought. If you are hard bargaining, where little or no relationship is needed, why not save on cost and negotiate through email or phone throughout?

The world is constantly changing as we adjust to this new threat and a new way of working. Taking the time to plan and consciously identifying what is appropriate for the situation, and what is not, is key to maximising value.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, please download our report on virtual negotiation, Negotiation without a table, below. 

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Lloyd Barrett