5 Tech Tips for Negotiating Online
1. Know the platform
Make sure you are familiar with whatever platform will be used for the negotiation. Test the platform beforehand with colleagues. Be familiar with key features such as chat, sharing files, moving into breakout rooms and sharing your screen. If you send the invite choose a platform you are comfortable with and one your counterpart feels comfortable with. Asking the question is as polite and thoughtful as checking in on food preferences for a joint lunch.
2. Think of parallel channels
Video conferencing has become the mainstream choice for online negotiations. It is where the central table is, so to speak. It is not the only communication channel though. Direct messaging (WhatsApp, sms), e-mail and old-fashioned phone conversations are as much part of the negotiation process as formal sit-downs in Webex, Teams of Zoom. Think carefully how these channels can help in building trust, sharing information in a timely manner and building a rich(er) personal relation between the parties.
3. Check your surroundings
Virtual backgrounds can be an inspiring or fun way to engage with the other side. They also come with drawbacks, however. The blend between your own face and that Hawaii beach, Swiss mountain range or executive office backdrop is often less than perfect. In addition, virtual backgrounds can reduce conversation quality when bandwidth is an issue. If you do not use virtual backgrounds or a blur, be aware of whatever surroundings you sit in as it says something about yourself. In many instances, meeting from your child’s bedroom, a kitchen table or an attic with unopened removal boxes is perfectly fine and it can even lead to small talk that helps foster a personal connection. In other instances, this is not a great idea. Make a conscious choice about how you feel most comfortable and what details of your home of office environment you are comfortable sharing.
4. Beware of confidentiality and security issues
Confidentiality usually plays an important role, especially in the final phases of a negotiation. Many agreements can only be struck if negotiators feel they can open up to the other side without that information falling in the hands of third parties or landing in the public domain. Videoconferencing platforms have increased their security settings since the outbreak of the pandemic. However, it is ultimately the users who decide how much of the security settings, such as meeting access codes, to use. Be mindful that in any situation recording a conversation without knowledge of the other party is always possible and far easier compared to physical encounters. Also, other people being in the room (but out of camera range) is a possibility. Do not let paranoia get in the way of a good agreement, though. Ensuring you and the other side are comfortable with the setting is key. One personalized way to do this is telling the other side where you are calling from and showing them the office or home space you are situated.
5. Do not multitask
Last but not least: never multitask in a negotiation. You would not finish your shopping list sitting in a physical meeting. Do not finalize that quick buy on Amazon while in a virtual meeting. Your counterparts will notice you are distracted. And if screen-sharing is part of your negotiation make sure you switch off or minimize all apps and windows you do not require for the conversation.