Video Killed The Negotiation Star – Part 1

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Paul Rogers recently ran a PASA Connect round-table on negotiation. To find more information on becoming a PASA Connect member and gain access to future events visit our website here.

I was once waiting to negotiate with a procurement manager who turned up 20 minutes late, shook me vigorously by the hand and looked me full in the eyes while saying “you’re not in my league”.

A physically large man, he had adopted the habit of using his physique and a confronting first impression as sources of personal power. Will video negotiation kill behaviours like this? With many negotiations now conducted by video, let’s explore whether negotiating by video is creating a revolution in negotiation behaviours, or whether the Tsars will just find new ways to use their power.

Is this evolution or revolution?

It is clear that business people are actively engaged in negotiations (and in some cases re-negotiation of existing arrangements) since Coronavirus disrupted business as usual.

In a study conducted by the IACCM and Keld Jensen, 96% of respondents believed that face to-face meetings are the best way to negotiate.

Negotiation conducted by video conference is different to negotiating face-to-face. Some things are the same, some things have changed and some things are now possible.

What is the same

You can still:

  • See each other’s facial expressions
  • See each other’s upper body
  • See some hand gestures
  • Hear each other’s voice.

What has changed

There are some things that have stopped:

  • There is no handshake (bad news for Mr ‘You’re not in my league’)
  • The ritual exchange of business cards is not possible
  • The social phase of sharing refreshments is not possible

These activities are part of building trust, and if you are negotiating with someone that you don’t know, video may be preferable to email or telephone, but it is not as easy to build rapport.

There are some things which are similar, but slightly different

  • Eye contact with the other party is harder
  • We can see some non-verbal communication, but not all
  • We may not be able to see the dynamics between team members of the other party
  • We may behave differently with a camera pointed at us, and be less spontaneous
  • We can still use a whiteboard to jointly develop ideas, but the process is more contrived

Co-operative negotiations rely on mutuality, a shared sense of common purpose. Most of us have experienced the choreography of jointly designing a solution by sharing a common whiteboard. Ideas flow back and forth. Each party can add content. That informality is harder to achieve when joint planning descends into a ping-pong match of your turn, then our turn, then your turn etc. Creativity may be lost in the discipline of one-at-a-time.

New possibilities

There are some new possibilities opened up by using video:

  • We can record negotiations for subsequent review
  • Organising negotiations should be easier as parties do not have to be co-located
  • Time outs should be easier
  • Meticulous note taking need not distract from participation in the process

One of the upsides of video negotiation is that it should be a more agile process. Instead of having a full day in negotiation with all the senior managers present, which might take a month to find a common window in people’s schedules, shorter sessions can be agreed which speed up the process. And no expensive travel costs!

Glasnost

Glasnost is Russian for openness and transparency. The mere fact that the negotiations are being shown live on camera does not necessarily imply that they are also recorded. However, the option to record the sessions does help in terms of not only note-taking, but also in terms of validating any representations made verbally in the event of a dispute as to what was promised during a negotiation. ‘Ethical drift’ means the gradual devaluing of what is true, honest and authentic. I don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest that whichever side of the negotiation you are on, if you know that your statements are being recorded, you are less likely to embroider the truth, or misrepresent facts, which may subsequently be shown not to be true. This can only help parties negotiate in good faith.

Perestroika

Perestroika is Russian for restructuring. Let’s run through some ideas about how video might restructure negotiation planning. It may sound obvious that the negotiation doesn’t begin when you say “Hello!” but it bears repeating. Before the negotiation begins make sure that:

  • The other party is aware of the topics for negotiation
  • The other party has available (on video or on call) stakeholders who can discuss the topics which will be the subject of negotiation
  • The parties agree the video platform that you intend to use so that both parties are comfortable about the level of security. Is Zoom OK?
  • You undertake a test run to check that the technology works. Multi-person video calls chew up bandwidth for people on domestic wi-fi, so experiment with multi-person calls.
  • The agenda has broad timings so the duration is proportional to the number and complexity of the issues.

This article was originally published here.

About Author

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Paul has a lifetime’s experience in negotiation and is a published author of a bestselling book Sales vs Procurement (with Elliot Epstein). Paul leads negotiations as well as coaching teams in negotiation, and is a Fellow of CIPSA. You can learn more about him at his website www.negotiationchallenge.com

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