Why it’s time to adapt to the virtual world: how to master online negotiations
By Tony Hughes, CEO at Huthwaite International, a leading global provider of sales, negotiation and communication skills development
Virtual negotiations are now the norm, but whilst we may all be familiar with sealing deals on Skype, how many of us are masters in communicating well online?
Here, Tony Hughes, CEO at Huthwaite International leading global provider of sales, negotiation and communication skills development, highlights the top five advantages of negotiating online and how to master this sort after skill.
1) Virtual negotiation interaction
Whilst you may feel you are already experienced in negotiation; these skills may not always translate to the online world. It’s important to practice your negotiation skills within a virtual environment now to futureproof your virtual negotiation style. Start by initiating internal negotiations and meetings virtually. Use this as an opportunity to test and assess skills sets, and where there may be breakdowns in communication. Having this valuable experience under your belt will allow you to identify any sticking points you need to overcome as a business, early on.
Something to consider from the offset if you begin virtual negotiations in the immediate future is to avoid a reference to “in the current crisis” and “bearing in mind the unprecedented times we are living through”. Nobody is unaware of the present circumstances. A lazy negotiator may use COVID-19 as cover to justify price positions or proposed contract terms when in reality, it might have no bearing one way or another. A skilled negotiator on the other hand will spot this, and it then morphs into another trap for the unwary: argument dilution. Be mindful of this in your approach.
2) Attend from anywhere
The beauty of virtual negotiations is that you can attend them from anywhere. Whether you’re in a different room, city or even country to those you’re negotiating with – it simply doesn’t matter. This makes them much more efficient, reliable and easier to organise and manage. However, this shift in functionality has a direct impact on the negotiation process. With less restrictions around timing and availability, be sure that you are entering the negotiations prepared. Don’t be pressured into negotiations until you are ready – this includes preparing and planning your responses around the objectives and fallbacks the other party have so you have a thorough understanding of what you both want to achieve from the process.
Of course, another real plus to the fact you can attend from home is that all the tools of the negotiator’s trade can be spread out on your desk (or kitchen table) for you to consult and annotate. That’s a liberty you could never take in to a face-to-face meeting. The things you want to see but you don’t want the other party to see are all there for you to use as you wish.
3) Reduced travel restrictions
Whilst great for cost saving on travel expenses, resource and availability, there are some drawbacks to virtual meetings. Now that meet ups can be arranged at the drop of a hat, it can leave you exposed to dirty tricks in negotiation. Issues such as calls being planned at the last minute and being sprung on you with little time to prepare, meetings being recorded, and not being able to fully gauge the mood of the room can be a real challenge. Try to counter act these negatives with a transparent, open and honest negotiation stance. If a meeting is being arranged, that provides you with little time to prepare, don’t be afraid of proposing an alternative time that better suits your needs. Likewise, if the room is hard to read, use proven negotiation techniques, such as testing understanding, to ensure you remain on the same page.
4) Practice new skills
The most important element of negotiating virtually is clear communication. Communication skills are often overlooked in sales and negotiation training – which can be a costly mistake. The way we deliver our proposals when negotiating virtually can make the difference between a good deal and a bad one. Be sure to avoid common irritators – these being words or phrases which have the potential to irritate through self-praise or condescension, lack any persuasive function and are used to describe a person’s own position or proposal. Examples are words such as: ‘fair’, ‘reasonable’, ‘generous’ etc. and a more recent one ‘due to the current situation’ These words may irritate, and shut down conversations that are essential to your negotiation. Working with an expert negotiator who can guide you to perfecting your virtual negotiating style will allow learning to be embedded throughout your team early on.
5) Increased productivity and efficiency
You may find that virtual negotiations are much more productive and efficient compared to face to face ones. Discussions may flow much better and messages can be shared more rapidly via video-conferencing. Because people are in the comfort of their own environment, you may also find that there is a more relaxed tone to conversations, which means that ultimately decisions can be made faster, projects are executed on time and productivity is increased. Also, if all parties are agreeable, the use of annotation and chat tools, and even the little red recording button, are good ways to banish post factum arguments about exactly what was said and agreed.
However, when in this environment, it is important not to be cagouled into a false sense of security. Apply the same level of caution to negotiations as you would ordinarily and utilise the extra time you may have to your advantage. This will ensure you can build rapport with the counter party, whilst maintaining professionalism and securing an advantage through utilising this extra time to conduct more in-depth negotiation preparation so you’re not caught off guard.
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