Tips for Virtual Negotiations

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Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

Social distancing and stay-at-home measures enacted in the wake of COVID-19 have forced many businesses to significantly change the way they operate and communicate. Nowhere is this change more noticeable than in the world of negotiations, which have moved almost entirely to digital platforms.

Businesses that are quick to adjust and adapt have an advantage over those which lag behind. Here are some tips on how to effectively conduct virtual negotiations—where communications involve the ability to hear and see (at least a headshot of) the other parties.

Direct Messaging – Dos and Don'ts

Most video conferencing platforms have direct messaging capabilities integrated within them, which can be quite valuable during virtual negotiations. Communicating in real time with team members and keeping those communications secret from the other side allows your team to adapt to new information and alter its negotiation strategy on the fly.

However, the use of such technology is not without its risks. First, to avoid embarrassment or worse, make sure that the messages are being sent only to your team members. If the other side receives a message that was not intended for them, it could both reveal your side's strategy/bargaining chips, and communicate disingenuousness.

It is worth considering using an entirely separate platform to send direct messages among your team. Make sure your team is trained to double-check recipients of any message before the message is sent.

Furthermore, sending and reading messages in the middle of the discussion can be distracting. Appearing inattentive during negotiations can cause the other party to feel that you are not taking the discussion seriously and can harm your ability to reach a deal. It is best to reserve direct messaging for only the most important real-time communications.

Give Your Team Clear Roles

It is harder to "read the room" in a virtual conference than during an in-person meeting. This can make it more difficult to guess who is about to speak and can lead to people talking over each other.

Assigning clear roles to team members can help reduce how often people are talking at the same time. For example, one person can explain your team's offer, another can answer questions, and another still can open and close the meeting. This tactic is important in any negotiation, but especially so for those held online.

In the course of listening to the other party, make sure you leave a pause to allow completion of messages. You might find out something useful by letting the other side talk without interruption.

Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication

Non-verbal cues are important even when the parties are not in the same room. Try to orient your camera so that the other party can watch you intently listening and taking notes. It is easier to check out during a video call than during an in-person meeting, but attempt to remain engaged and nod in agreement whenever appropriate. Keep your hand gestures within the frame to enrich the message you are sending.

Remember that the other parties are able to view your face and facial expressions without necessarily letting you know that they are doing so. Be careful with eye-rolls, sighs, grumbling, and other obvious nonverbal cues—unless you really want to negotiate using those tools.

Conversely, watch the non-verbals of those on the other team. Perhaps they will unwittingly give you "tells" or some added context.

Enter the Meeting at the Same Time

Lastly, attempt to have all of your team members enter the video conference at the same time. This can help reduce awkward small talk, as well as the chances that one of your team members will be left to deal with the other party's team without any backup—or without witnesses.

Conclusion

Many best practices in negotiation remain the same whether the negotiation is held in person or online. However, the above recommendations can improve the quality of your team's virtual negotiations and allow you to be a more effective business dealmaker.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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