When possible and practical, negotiate in person. Much of human communication involves facial expression, body language, gestures, and other visual clues.
The fewer of these you have to read, the more difficult a negotiation can become. Negotiating in person also gives you the opportunity to connect with your partner in ways that help you get to know him or her better, something we’ve covered in previous chapters.
When you can’t negotiate in person, a teleconference is your second-best option. If using Skype or some other video-conferencing tool is impossible, however, use the phone. Email provides the least information and the fewest nuances; use it only when you genuinely have to or to handle inconsequential matters or tie up loose ends.
Some other observations about phone and email negotiations: Sometimes people try to accomplish other tasks when they’re on the phone. (And, more and more, this happens during face-to-face negotiations as well, when people repeatedly check or otherwise use their smartphones or tablets.) Negotiating always requires your full, focused attention.
Don’t multitask during a negotiation, and don’t let your negotiation partner do it either. If you sense that there are others in the room with them making demands, or if you can hear them typing while they talk to you and the typing doesn’t involve taking notes or revising a document, suggest finding another time to negotiate. You can say something like this: “It’s important to me that we both focus on this discussion. If you’re not able to do that right now, let’s set up a time when we’re both free to talk without distractions.”
Because visual clues are not available to you in phone negotiations, pay extra attention to how something is said and to how your own words are received. Make sure you remember to employ your active and reflective listening skills.
If you are on a conference call with many other people in a room and several others on the phone, observe all the rules of etiquette that you would when negotiating in person. Take the time to identify everyone in the room for the people on the phone, and make sure each caller is identified, can hear, and be heard.
During the conversation, make sure everyone is allowed to have their say. This can be challenging during phone negotiations. When you can’t observe the cues that indicate when a person is finished speaking, it’s easy to interrupt or talk over each other.
As far as email is concerned, its biggest limitation is that it’s one-dimensional. Negotiators often think they’re thoroughly explaining what they need, but huge chunks of information may get omitted. Tone doesn’t come across well in email, except for ALL CAPS that usually indicate anger.
Moreover, there’s no immediate give-and-take. One benefit of email is that you have an opportunity to revise your words to get them right. You can review what you’ve written, eliminate ambiguity, and make sure you’ve included all the relevant information. Only then should you press the “send” button.
Caution: Never send any email in the heat of high emotion. Write it, rewrite it, save it, walk away, and review it a few hours (or days) later. If you still feel it reflects what you want to say and the way you want to say it, have someone else review it before it goes out.
When you receive information via email, remember to apply the same reflective listening techniques to the content as if your negotiation partner were sitting next to you. For example, I find it useful to read the message out loud to ensure that it makes sense. People use shorthand and incomplete sentences in emails. If there is ambiguity, send a reply email summarizing your understanding of their negotiation position and requesting further clarification of the points that are unclear.
Excerpt from The Transformative Negotiator: Changing How We Come to Agreement from the Inside Out. By Michèle Huff, J.D. UNHOOKED BOOKS.