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Video Killed The Negotiation Star – Part 2

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.

Read Part One of Video Killed The Negotiation Tsar here.

What is your name, Comrade?

I have a memory like a sieve. So I always put business cards in front of me on the table when I’m negotiating, so I can address each person by name. There are two consequences of not having a business card in front of us:

  • we need some other way to remember ‘who’s who’ on our screens
  • we need some other way to know what is the stakeholder’s role

Don’t skimp on the introductions or social chitchat and try to build some rapport especially if you have not met the other party previously. It is good practice to ensure that at the start of the process, there is some brief introduction describing who the person is, (especially if the video conferencing platform you are using does not have the person’s name) and what is their role in the negotiation. You could even do this when setting up the negotiation, so you know who is calling the shots. If the social rituals of negotiation are important to trust building, invest some time in the first five minutes to build rapport and engagement with the other party. There is abundant evidence to show that good negotiators work hard on the person-to-person relationship as well as the business dimension of the negotiation.

Who’s in charge?

When the social phase is ending, the person who signals that we are now moving to the business phase is likely to be the most powerful person. If you are hosting the negotiation, make sure that this is you. If you have prepared an agenda you might suggest sharing your screen to show the agenda.

The horror of screenshare (Part One)

Video negotiation is not the same thing as a video presentation. In a video presentation one party shares their screen, often a PowerPoint document or other pre-prepared visual aid and then reads out the words on the PowerPoint slide in a way that is really engaging. There are a number of things that can be positive about screen sharing:

  • Each party can introduce new information, and visual aids can share a lot of information quickly
  • Everyone has the same point of truth, and combining words and pictures reduces misunderstandings

However, there are some downsides to screen sharing. First of all, you lose the face-to-face engagement and in particular, the non-verbal feedback from your audience. By the time you’ve got to slide 10 of your oh-so-compelling PowerPoint summary of your proposal, it can be hard to know whether the other party has glazed over.

Why not send it in advance? Save the negotiation for a two-way dialogue, not a one-way monologue. The point here is that video presentation is not the same thing as video negotiation. For one thing, there is the risk of descent from discussion about proposals into a series of restatements of original positions. Each side digs their trench a little deeper, making movement a little harder. Good practice is to limit the amount of screen sharing and to check-in with the other party every couple of minutes. Are they paying attention? Are they engaged?

There are three common reasons why the other party may break off eye contact during a negotiation.

  • They are writing down something to ensure there is a record of a commitment that your side has made.
  • They are reminding themselves about an issue to which they wish to return later in the negotiation.
  • They are scrolling through Facebook because they have zoned out of the negotiation

If you have sought agreement to record a negotiation, there should be less need to write down everything that is said, releasing the participants to pay attention. So let’s use that opportunity to engage with the other party with respectful eye contact.

“Handle the tension by holding eye contact directly into the camera. Don’t over-talk the other party, and pause a second or two longer than normal when they have finished a sentence to deal with any lags or delays”

Elliot Epstein

The horror of screenshare (Part Two)

There are numerous anecdotal stories of business people accidentally revealing their browser history while sharing their screen to co-workers, not always with hilarious results.

So if you plan to share your screen, here are my top tips.

  • Turn off as many email or other chat notifications as you possibly can. This includes your company messaging system. Can you imagine negotiating with a party and then your company messaging platform (like Yammer, Teams or Slack) pops up with a ‘private’ message from somebody on your side of the negotiation? Not a good look!
  • Try to avoid using the messaging functionality of the video platform you’re using for the negotiation, even if it has the option for private messaging. Murphy’s Law is that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. You can guarantee that the private message intended only for your team will accidentally be revealed in public.
  • If you want to be able to send private messages, one option is to create two instances of the video conferencing application, one which is live with the other party, and one which is exclusively for your team and is not shared with the other party. This then creates a quarantined environment for sharing messaging between negotiation team members, which may be particularly important if you are not co located.
  • Assume that everything on the desktop of the person sharing their screen will be revealed to the other party. It should go without saying that all active documents related to the negotiations should be closed. If you have file names such as Bid evaluation.xlsx or worse still Negotiation objectives.pptx best close the files and hide them in a folder rather than have them open.

The walls have ears

It’s hard to be spontaneous when you know a camera is watching you. But after a few minutes there may be a temptation to relax and forget that the camera is there. One tip I recommend is to prepare a sign reading “Live on Air!” and affix it to the the screen showing the other party. There are two reasons for this:

  • To remind you that after the initial self-consciousness of being on camera wanes, it is easy to forget that your face is being filmed and watched by the other party
  • Most of us have heard stories about video negotiations when one party turned off the camera in order to conduct a ’time out’ discussion, but forgot to turn off the microphone, broadcasting conversations that were intended to be private. A benefit of the “Live on Air!” sign is that when the video conference is not live, somebody has to get up and take down the sign. At that point, when we are certain that there is no video feed and no audio feed, we can speak openly. But only then.

You are being watched

Here is an image of Vladimir Putin, the current Russian President. What is he thinking? Is he happy or sad? Vladimir is a low reactor. His face doesn’t give much away. For most of us the dream of a ‘poker face’ is just that. A dream. The face is very leaky in terms of nonverbal information. An eye roll here. A shake of the head. A furrowed brow. A raised eyebrow. All these non-verbal signals may be perfectly innocent. But whatever signals we give, we should be aware that we are being watched.

Make sure that you remind everyone (especially team members not actively involved in the subject of the negotiation) to stay focused, The “Live on Air!” sign can remind us to try to minimise inadvertent disclosure of nonverbal communication.

Handover of power

If your team is not co-located, and you want to handover to a colleague, copy what TV news anchors do when ‘throwing’ to a colleague on an outside broadcast “Let’s now go to Sam Brown who’s live at the scene…Sam!” Behaviour labelling “I’d now like to handover to Sam, who’ll explore the commercial issues…Sam!” This alerts Sam if they have not been paying attention, and avoids a ‘hospital pass’ of suddenly calling out their name and expecting them to be paying 100% attention.

The Revolution is being Televised

So there are some of my thoughts about negotiating by video. The revolution is being televised and, like it or not, we should seize the opportunity to get better outcomes through negotiation. Or we will end up like the Tsar, a victim of the revolution.

This article was originally published here.

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