Today, businesses largely negotiate internally and externally via e-mail, phone calls, and video chat rooms like Skype and iChat. Although some negotiators still use more traditional forms of written communication (letters, proposals and formal reports) or may have the rare opportunity to meet face-to-face, most negotiators typically use a combination of newer technologies to reach agreements. This varied use of newer media can create benefits for negotiating parties. Negotiation sessions can occur instantaneously with parties anywhere in the world, leading to faster reply rates and agreements. But, it also brings forth complications and questions that need settling. For instance, an e-negotiator may ask, How do I build interpersonal rapport through e-mail? Am I limiting myself by proposing a concept to a client over the telephone? What is socially appropriate conduct for negotiation via video chat? Because the nature of each negotiation varies so much, these are questions that can be best answered by examining the goals of negotiators in isolated situations and by molding the successful components of traditional forms of negotiation to computer-mediated communications
Successful Negotiation Tactics
Although negotiations vary from session to session, there is set of steps that successful negotiators follow to reach beneficial outcomes. First, they present an argument that communicates their interests. Second, they develop a ground of trust and act attentively to uncover their counterpart's interests and needs. Third, they consider what Harvard Law School refers to as BATNA--that is, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement (Harvard Law School 2009). Negotiators can gain strength in their current negotiation by considering strong outside solutions. By considering their BATNA, negotiators can lessen personal and group pressures that often lead them to make concessions or present threats in order to reach a settlement (Thompson and Nadler 2002). Assessing the other party's BATNA can also help negotiators determine what information and proposals to relay to their counterpart at a particular moment in the conversation. Negotiators should only reach a settlement when they feel that their interests have been met appropriately.
Often, negotiators who communicate face-to-face easily develop the interpersonal rapport and trust necessary to reach settlements. Simply put, live social interaction is more engaging. It allows social cues to constantly occur. Negotiators naturally use body language and hand gestures, which can enhance their arguments. Additionally, their fluency and usage of fillers in conversation can indicate their confidence, attentiveness, cooperation, knowledge, and trust in settling the issue at hand (Thompson and Nadler 2002).
Translating Face-to-Face Tactics to Computer-Mediated Communications
So how can negotiators translate their trust and confidence within media that force them to communicate in isolation and virtual settings? According to McGrath and Kelly's model described by Thompson and Nadler, some negotiators non-consciously communicate in coordinated behaviors through e-mail and other computer-mediated communications. These behaviors include imitating the linguistic structure of each other's messages (message length, informal content, and grammar), the social-emotional connotations of their counterpart's message (tone and directness), and the rate at which the message is attended to (reply lag-time). Negotiators who engage in these coordinated behaviors often successfully reach agreements with their counterparts. But what about the negotiators who do not engage in these synched tendencies non-consciously? They may be sending a signal to their counterpart that they are uninterested in achieving mutual outcomes. The same negotiators may even be prone to including more threats in their proposals. This, in effect, can hinder or destroy the progression of a settlement or prevent subsequent negotiations with the same party in the future (Thompson and Nadler 2002). So, how can e-negotiations proactively improve their communications to reach settlements? The following sections will present models for negotiation that may lead to successful outcomes.
Negotiators can improve their communications by taking a social-psychological approach, especially when using e-mail. They can consider McGrath and Kelly’s model described above and adopt some of these coordinated behaviors, particularly tone and directness or even lag time, to achieve cooperation. As these behaviors may often vary between the corporate cultures of businesses, synching these behaviors can certainly create a ground of trust, which may lead to more information exchange and sharing of interests. Over time, this could lead to favorable outcomes for both parties involved. On the down side, this approach seems to trivialize negotiation. It also forces negotiators to act in a way that may not necessarily reflect their personality or tendencies. Many negotiators may not be willing to adjust their tendencies, even if their interests or their company’s interests are on the line. In some cases, resorting to this approach can indicate that a negotiator may have better outside solutions.
Subjective Value Approach
In 2010, John Curhan, Hillary Anger Elfenbein, and Noah Eisenkraft conducted a multi-round study that attempted to better examine the implications of negotiations in real world settings--that is, implications for future working relationships and further negotiations as opposed to isolated negotiations. This study sheds light on what factors ultimately lead to subsequent negotiations by comparing the impact of economic rewards to that of the social, perceptual and emotional outcomes of a settlement. These social, perceptual, and emotional outcomes are referred to as subjective value and are broken down by Curhan, Elfenbein and Eisenkraft into the following five categories: instrumental, self, process, relationship, and global subjective values. Each category is comprised of a specific subjective perception, such as the feeling that "one has been heard and treated justly" or that a solid foundation was created between a negotiator and his counterpart. By focusing on the subjective value of a negotiation process or settlement as opposed to the economic outcomes, negotiators will exude the pride and confidence necessary to engage in future negotiations with the same of different counterparts. For negotiators who use computer-mediated communications, it is especially important to express positive subjective value with counterparts during and after a negotiation. According to Curhan, Elfenbein, and Eisenkfrast, "expressing high satisfaction with the relationship and process can be valuable to the extent that it evokes such satisfaction in others as well, and negotiators are more willing to compromise with negotiators who they know and like" (Curhan 2010).
Because each technology has its limitations, it can be helpful to negotiators to combine various media such as the telephone and e-mail when communicating with counterparts. Although e-mail may enable a negotiator to carefully examine the proposal of his counterpart, it also presents limitations for negotiation that were briefly discussed earlier. Specifically, e-mail can interfere with the pathos of a negotiator’s argument as often his counterpart will not immediately receive the e-mail and will do so within his own isolated setting. Often, e-mail can create a volleying back and forth of information and arguments—sometimes, with very large time gaps. This particularly interferes with the pathos negotiators create, which may lead less convincing proposals. In order to re-establish pathos and reach end agreements, negotiators have been combining media and “schmoozing” (Thompson and Nadler 2002). In a study conducted by Thompson and Nadler, the term “schmoozing” is discussed as an act that is “that is “non-task based and more relationship based.” The study concluded that negotiators who “schmoozed” on the phone prior with their counterpart prior to their e-mail volley were able “develop more realistic goals, resulting in large range of possible outcomes” (Thompson and Nadler). The same negotiators also strengthened relationships with their counterpart, which may be useful for engaging with them in future negotiations.
Combining video and e-mail may even further this development of interpersonal rapport. Video incorporates some the benefits of a face-to-face meeting with the benefits of computer-mediated communications. Video incorporates visual and audio components that enable negotiating parties to see and hear the argument of their counterpart. In this setting, ethos and pathos thrive. Negotiator’s can create a sense of trust through some usage of body language (particularly hand gestures) and also non-verbal speech (conversational fluency and fillers). The physical distance between the negotiating parties may even improve the confidence of nervous negotiators by creating a balance of attentiveness (through visual components) and distance (each negotiator presents an argument from behind his own computer screen). Additionally, like face-to-face communication, video provides the possibility for negotiation to occur in one sitting. It also allows for three times as much information exchange. In turn, this promotes interpersonal rapport as negotiators feel they are properly briefed on the topic and can easy clarify any hazy terms of a proposal by asking the counterpart or by receiving further information in the development of the negotiation (Thompson and Nadler 2002).
Impoliteness Theory and Efficiency Approach
An article on the impoliteness phenomenon in computer-mediated communications presents conflicting data with that of the approaches just described. Although Lu’s article does not specifically discuss the level of politeness in negotiations, it presents an interesting discussion and study of the usage of the instant messaging program used in China, dubbed “QQ.” (Lu 2010). However, the cultural and technological implications of this study may be able to show how negotiations may be carried within a particular culture or community. It can illustrate how drastically uninhibited behaviors can occur in non-face-to-face settings. The study, which monitored five levels or principles of politeness in Chinese culture reveals that a high degree of impoliteness occurred during the communications between individuals using QQ. During these conversations, individuals who would have acted modestly about their achievements in face-to-face settings, acted confidently and even pompously over QQ conversations. After interviewing the participants, Lu discovered that most QQ users even prefer some degree of impoliteness in QQ conversations. This approach cuts the “schmoozing” out of interaction, which enables individuals to gain a truer sense of their person on the other end of the conversation. If we apply this directly to negotiation, we can see some benefits of removing the “schmoozing.” First, it puts the focus on the task at hand rather than the relationship between negotiators. In some instances, this may lead to prompter settlements between negotiators who do not have time or capabilities to build interpersonal rapport. Second, it can indicate a negotiator’s natural confidence in his argument. As discussed earlier, demonstrating confidence is an important step in settling negotiations. Further, if impoliteness is the normative behavior of communicators in this particular culture, it may be the most natural and best way to conduct negotiations in professional settings.