10 tips for con­duc­ting online nego­tia­ti­ons

The coro­na­vi­rus pan­de­mic has chan­ged the mee­ting and nego­tia­ti­on game. It’s easy to see only the nega­ti­ve, but the­re are bene­fits to con­sider as well. For exam­p­le, many peo­p­le found that they could get things done wit­hout having to tra­vel hundreds of miles for a small nego­tia­ti­on. In fact, remo­te mee­tings save orga­niza­ti­ons mil­li­ons of dol­lars in tra­vel cos­ts, mana­gers hours on pla­nes and trains, and help redu­ce envi­ron­men­tal cos­ts. 

To the ori­gi­nal artic­le on FORBES.COM

If you under­stand the dyna­mics of vir­tu­al nego­tia­ti­ons, you can use them in your favor and clo­se the best deals. When you compa­re video con­fe­ren­cing to the tele­pho­ne and other remo­te nego­tia­ti­on tools, the dif­fe­rence is astoun­ding. 

The avera­ge busi­ness pho­ne call lasts only five minu­tes. A short mee­ting can cer­tain­ly be effi­ci­ent, but can you ima­gi­ne fal­ling in love over the pho­ne? When visu­al cues are miss­ing, it’s very hard to build a trus­ting rela­ti­onship. You can’t even see who else is in the room. 

In one stu­dy, in a simu­la­ted face-to-face strike, nego­tia­tors were more likely to coor­di­na­te an agree­ment ear­lier than tho­se stan­ding next to each other (and unable to see each other). The reason is that direct non­ver­bal (ges­tu­res, eye cont­act, etc.) and para­ver­bal (mhms, and so on) con­ver­sa­ti­ons lead to bet­ter con­nec­tion, increased col­la­bo­ra­ti­on, more win-win out­co­mes, and a more even dis­tri­bu­ti­on of the pie. 

Women, in par­ti­cu­lar, achie­ve bet­ter rap­port when eye cont­act is faci­li­ta­ted. For men, face-to-face com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on can increase dis­com­fort with ano­ther man and may be best reser­ved for dif­fi­cult and com­plex nego­tia­ti­ons. In addi­ti­on, women tend to do bet­ter when they nego­tia­te vir­tual­ly. They find it easier to be more asser­ti­ve, as online or tele­pho­ne nego­tia­ti­ons redu­ce the pres­su­re on women to exhi­bit gen­der-balan­ced beha­vi­or.

Video con­fe­ren­cing has an inte­res­t­ing advan­ta­ge over face-to-face nego­tia­ti­ons in real life: 

When nego­tia­tors belie­ve that the other par­ty is not near­by but far away (seve­ral thousand meters), more win-win situa­ti­on is crea­ted. The reason for this: distance crea­tes an ori­en­ta­ti­on to the big pic­tu­re.

The suc­cess pyra­mid is clear: face-to-face nego­tia­ti­ons pro­du­ce the most win-win results, tele­pho­ne nego­tia­ti­ons are next best, and e‑mail com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on is third.


Befo­re we talk about how to sol­ve the most annoy­ing pro­blems rela­ted to online nego­tia­ti­ons, let’s take a litt­le clo­ser look at what exact­ly the­se pro­blems are.


The­re is no casu­al cont­act: Dif­fi­cult pro­blems and issues are often resol­ved in casu­al con­ver­sa­ti­ons in the office, in hall­ways or at the water coo­ler. Employees in adja­cent offices com­mu­ni­ca­te twice as often as tho­se in offices on the same flo­or, even if you include email and pho­ne cont­act.


Your video con­fe­ren­cing part­ner appears as a tal­king head or tor­so, making it impos­si­ble for you to obser­ve the body lan­guage in the con­text of the envi­ron­ment. And the tal­king head some­ti­mes can’t real­ly be “read” if the image pau­ses, buf­fers, or lags. 

And there’s ano­ther pro­blem: It’s almost impos­si­ble to make eye cont­act during a video­con­fe­rence, espe­ci­al­ly when using a PC came­ra, which is usual­ly moun­ted on top of the moni­tor. If you look into your counterpart’s eyes on the screen, he will have the impres­si­on that you are loo­king below him. Lack of eye cont­act makes it dif­fi­cult to build a trus­ting rela­ti­onship. Ano­ther inte­res­t­ing point noted by Noam Ebner of Creigh­ton Uni­ver­si­ty is the heigh­ten­ed awa­re­ness of dif­fe­ren­ces. We not only see the other person’s head, but usual­ly our own as well. This leads to uncon­scious com­pa­ri­son, which leads to an exces­si­ve focus on dif­fe­ren­ces in terms of gen­der, race, age, cul­tu­re, etc. 


It often hap­pens that you lose a con­fe­rence par­ti­ci­pant or have pro­blems with the micro­pho­ne or came­ra. This is annoy­ing and ruins the mood and the cour­se of the nego­tia­ti­on. The World Trade Orga­niza­ti­on has can­ce­led this year’s bien­ni­al mee­ting, which was sche­du­led for June in Kazakh­stan. The move to a vir­tu­al for­mat was ruled out becau­se of tech­ni­cal and secu­ri­ty chal­lenges, inclu­ding the dif­fi­cul­ty of pro­vi­ding simul­ta­neous trans­la­ti­on, access for all mem­bers to a sta­ble Inter­net con­nec­tion, vul­nerabi­li­ty to hack­ing, and the pos­si­bi­li­ty of unaut­ho­ri­zed recor­dings. When nego­tia­ting sen­si­ti­ve issues, don’t be naï­ve.


You know the­re are pro­blems asso­cia­ted with online nego­tia­ti­ons, but you also know that online nego­tia­ti­ons have advan­ta­ges over face-to-face mee­tings. Sin­ce you can’t make the COVID-19 cri­sis go away, here are 10 steps you can take to make lemo­na­de out of lemons:

  1. Start with small talk cove­ring topics that are not rele­vant to the nego­tia­ti­on. The other person’s back­ground (pic­tures, fur­ni­tu­re) pro­vi­des amp­le oppor­tu­ni­ty to find a topic. As with any com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on task, fin­ding com­mon ground is para­mount. 
  2. Be awa­re that ever­y­thing that sur­rounds you con­veys some­thing about you. Make sure that you and your back­ground have an appearance appro­pria­te to the pur­po­se of the nego­tia­ti­on ses­si­on.
  3. To build trust, make eye cont­act by loo­king into your com­pu­ter came­ra ins­tead of loo­king at the other per­son on your com­pu­ter screen.
  4. Don’t think you are capa­ble of mul­ti­tas­king. Che­cking or sen­ding emails (with a bing) will make you a worse nego­tia­tor and offend the other par­ty. Remem­ber: you can always tell when the per­son you are tal­king to is dis­trac­ted.
  5. Com­ment on the posi­ti­ve aspects of diver­si­ty: “Won­derful to see such diver­se peo­p­le and cul­tures working tog­e­ther to sol­ve such a com­plex busi­ness!
  6. Com­bat the “tal­king head” illu­si­on by poli­te­ly asking the other per­son to move fur­ther away from the came­ra so you can see as much as pos­si­ble. Return this beha­vi­or — unless you want to hide your thoughts.
  7. If you have secu­ri­ty issues, get them out of the way first. If you can’t defu­se the poten­ti­al­ly unsta­ble envi­ron­ment and your issue is sen­si­ti­ve or trust is low, nego­tia­te in per­son again — even if it means wai­ting.
  8. Prac­ti­ce using the video con­fe­ren­cing tool befo­re important nego­tia­ti­ons. Make sure all par­ti­ci­pan­ts have a good Inter­net con­nec­tion. Resche­du­le mee­tings when neces­sa­ry.
  9. Prepa­re the same way you would prepa­re for a nego­tia­ti­on in real life. The­re is no dif­fe­rence.
  10. Imme­dia­te­ly fol­low up the mee­ting with an email sum­ma­ri­zing the results of the nego­tia­ti­on. Ask the other par­ty to con­firm the agree­ments that resul­ted from the pre­vious dis­cus­sion. 

The pan­de­mic will even­tual­ly pass, but the effects of the pan­de­mic will not. Don’t think the world will return to “busi­ness as usu­al” in a month or two. It won’t. Smart nego­tia­tors use the cur­rent pro­blem to find future solu­ti­ons. Buil­ding your video­con­fe­ren­cing skills will pay rich divi­dends.

Share this post!