What's on Your Prep Sheet for Negotiation by Zoom?
1. Think about how to connect for real
Video cannot beat the communication richness of a handshake, the smell of coffee and looking each other in the eye (not possible through a screen). For many reasons making a real connection is a lot more difficult. Instead of acknowledging this and willingly suffer the consequences, you can also opt to be creative and pay attention to connection beforehand. This means stepping back from your negotiation 1o1 course on your interests, positions, BATNAs, ZOPAs and what more, and instead focus on the other person. A wide body of research shows that trust is generally lower before and during virtual negotiations. Without investing in the relationship, forget about building trust. What non-business related matters can you discuss? What questions and follow-up questions in the realm of "how are you?" can you ask? There is certainly one topic that connects everybody these days...
2. Clarify the agenda in advance & adjust its ambition
The more important the video call, the better the practice to negotiate the negotiation itself in advance, via phone, email or text messages. If you have an idea of what the agenda should be, solicit the input from the other side. Aim for an agenda that excels in brevity. Doing negotiation by videoconference well means downsizing the ambition on the number of issues you can tackle in one session. The risk of a long agenda is rushing through areas where more listening, exploring and mutual creativity can be found if you would have invested the time... Agreeing (rather than imposing) a realistic agenda means you are both ahead before you get started.
3. Be ware of "exit bias"
You may save significant time and money by not travelling for the negotiation you are about to embark on virtually. That's a plus, of course, but it comes with a minus: exit bias. Some research demonstrates that people negotiating virtually tend to give up sooner than those who meet one another at the table. Probably this is partly so because the investment to get to the negotiation has been lower, but missing out on a deeper personal connection also contributes: it easier to close the door on someone you only know through your labtop screen. What can be done? Apart from the previous points above, explicitly stating your intentions to come to agreement and inviting the other party to do the same can make a big difference. What may be implicitly obvious (why would you negotiate if you have no intention to reach agreement?) is made far stronger by saying it loud and clear, repeating it if necessary. It may be just a little harder for the other side to walk out when if the going gets a little tough down the road.
4. Use multiple channels
Great, you have agreed to video as the central medium for your negotiation. It should not trap you into putting all your energy into videocalls. In face-to-face negotiations, constructive steps, connection, trust and creativity are often reached "away from the table": taking a 10-minute coffee break, walking to lunch together, or making phone calls in between sessions. Think creatively of multiple channels you can use before, during and after negotiation sessions and do this both in terms of technology (phone calls, direct audio or text messaging, voicemails, emails, etc.) and people: are you the only human to convey information? And who other than your direct counterpart has influence over the other side?