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Negotiating across the Virtual Landscape

Whether we are drafting a proposal from our home office, firing off a quick response on our smartphone, or debating contract details over Zoom, virtual communication has become an integral part of our professional lives. While the virtual environment affords new opportunities to connect and collaborate faster and more frequently than ever before, it also poses significant challenges to how we traditionally have conducted negotiations.

Without the benefit of nonverbal cues, the likelihood of misunderstanding increases, making managing conflict and discussing thorny issues all the more difficult. No wonder a study conducted by Harvard University found that negotiations conducted via email were more than 2.5 times as likely to end in an impasse than those conducted in person. 

In their new article, “Negotiating Across the Virtual Landscape,” Liz Rayer and Ethan Underhill highlight the biggest pitfalls of managing virtual negotiations and offer four tips for leveraging virtual’s inherent attributes to make your next long-distance negotiation more successful.

What makes virtual negotiation challenging?
The virtual environment poses many challenges for negotiating, managing conflict, and discussing difficult issues.

One of the biggest hurdles is the increased likelihood of misunderstanding. In virtual negotiations, we lose the benefit of nonverbal cues that helps us convey meaning. Even in video conferencing it can be hard to read body language and facial expressions and make eye contact; and in email and text communication we also lose tone of voice and vocal inflection. Take away the nonverbal cues and add in the emotional climate of a high-stakes interaction, and we are even more apt to miss the mark.

In a study conducted at Harvard University, approximately 50% of email negotiations ended in impasse compared with only 19% when the interactions were conducted in-person.

In addition, in a virtual setting, we also lose access to some of the critical rapport mechanisms that help us develop and maintain human connection with one another. As such, we are less likely to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person and see things from their perspective, and are more likely to become entrenched in our demands — an approach that often leads to impasse and suboptimal outcomes.

Their first piece of advice: “Choose your medium strategically.” 

Download the article to learn all four.

Download The Article