Modern Negotiations

by Professor Manie Spoelstra - A look at negotiating in the 21st Century

This article discusses the crossfire of technological demands.If we are to successfully conduct our business in future, we have little choice but to creatively respond to these demands.

As the euphoria surrounding the dawning of the third millennium fades, the realities of our future world increasingly confront us. When we, as business leaders, pause to read the messages inscribed into the closing decades of the past century, we find that we are increasingly caught up in the crossfire of technological demands.

If we are to successfully conduct our business in future, we have little choice but to creatively respond to these demands. Were we to consider ignoring them, the words of the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass - "It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast as that." - are likely to haunt us. Negotiators who fail to keep pace with today's ever - changing business landscape are destined to find they run in place wi


Traditional wisdom has firmly conditioned us to rigidly adhere to a face - to - face negotiation paradigm. As a consequence, we seldom stop to question whether it is absolutely essential to embark upon an extended trip whenever contact with the other party in a negotiation is required. Because we assume that something like email precludes direct face - to - face contact, we tend to reject it as a means of negotiation. Our paradigm paralysis prevents us from even considering whether email can creatively be manipulated to effectively augment our face - to - face negotiations.

In his research into the use of different communication media in negotiation, Michael Morris of Stanford University found that the psychology of trust was the most important factor that determined whether a particular media would make a positive contribution to a negotiation. He found that although most experienced negotiators strongly emphasise the importance of rapport - shared positive emotion and regard – few paid attention to it, as it is difficult to measure. Not to be discouraged by the reluctance of his colleagues, he developed ways of gauging rapport in negotiations, and found that the non verbal emotional cues that are present in face - to - face negotiations result in higher levels of rapport than in the case of telephone

In studies specifically related to email, Morris found that role - play negotiations via email were less likely to be successful than were face - to - face interactions. It transpired that the main reason was the tendency for parties to be offended by blunt email messages that they often misconstrued. The following examples serve to demonstrate possible coces of

"Anything less than £1 million will be a blatant give - away and will not be a fair price."
"You cannot be serious! We are definitely not going to pay for all your development costs and thereby subsidise other costs."

"The minimum damage payment we deserve is £2 million."
"I must say you seem to have a liking for vile jokes. Get serious and stop wasting your and my time! Mail me when you are ready to enter into us discussions."

Although email is an extremely useful medium for relaying factual information, it has severe limitations in terms of tone and attitude. What may be intended as a clear and direct message could be interpreted as blunt and/or rude, while a humorous message may be perceived as offensive and derogatory. An ill - conceived email message could result in the destruction of a positive relationship built through face - to - face interactions, and could even scuttle a potentially lucrative

Relationship - building

The challenge we face is to adapt email in such a way that it becomes a useful secondary negotiation medium. We need to add relationship - building content to our email messages; content that signals positive emotion and intent, such as: "By working together to achieve our mutual interests we have made great progress," or "The trust and flexibility you have demonstrated has made it a fulfilling experience to work with you and your company." This helps to some degree to overcome the communication 'gap' due to the absence of nonverbal expressions and voice

More thinking time

In face - to - face negotiation it often happens that a negotiator feels pressurised to accept a settlement that later transpires not to be in the best interests of the company. Email has the advantage that it provides skilled negotiators with an opportunity to think before responding.

International company negotiations

From his research, Morris has deduced that email is not subject to a spiral of misinterpretation and mistrust if the introduction thereof into the negotiation process is preceded by a well - established basis of trust. Based on this finding he has postulated that the use of email in inter - company negotiations, where relationships tend to cushion such interactions, is less subject to misinterpretations and mistrust than in the case of intra - company email negotiations. The latter often being confounded by office politics and the attempts of individuals to use every opportunity to strengthen their influence and power base.

Fortunately modern communications technology (video conferencing and inexpensive computer mounted cameras) has made it possible to enrich email text with personal and rapport - building information. By enhancing the email text with visual, audio and background information many of the liabilities of email can effectively be minimised.

Although email may never be a good initiator of negotiation relationships, it undoubtedly will have an increasingly important role in sustaining such relationships. Our challenge is to use this tool in such a way that it is not merely a channel of cold, hard facts, but is also able to convey the emotional and social information that is a requirement for a sound long - term relationship.

Reader Comments

Average Rating:

Total Comments: 1

View or Write a comment

Back to Negotiation Articles

Please feel free to share this article by republishing the contents of this page in part or full. All that we ask is you include a regular link back to this site, preferably to our page.

Reader Comments

Average Reader Rating:       Comments: 1

share your comment

1 of 1 people found the following comment useful:

Good, Succint Overview - 2007 Jul 28
Commentator: Anne (United Kingdom)

"A clear & concise overview of the challenges associated with modern communication methods when seeking to negotiate."

Useful Comment? Vote

Negotiation Newsletter