Imagine you’ve initiated talks with a potential business partner or you’re collaborating with a remote business team located across the globe. When it comes time to negotiate, the reality is neither party has time, or budget, for travel. So you turn to the next best thing: negotiating virtually.
Utilizing digital channels for virtual negotiations can be an effective technique when face-to-face is not possible, or desired. With globalization and the dispersing of teams and organizations, these channels are being used and embraced more frequently at the virtual negotiating table.
When used appropriately, digital channels can all but simulate being in person and can be incorporated into your strategies throughout the negotiation process. It’s essential to make the most of the tools at your disposal, and there is value in being agile and able to strategically switch between the channels you have based on how the negotiation is going.
Face-to-face has long been the gold standard, but digital platforms have a place within negotiations and can be equally effective when you know how to maximize their potential.

5 Ways to Maximize Virtual Platforms for Your Next Negotiation

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

The golden rule for any negotiation you participate in is to prepare. This guideline doesn’t go away when you are negotiating digitally; if anything, it is more critical to get your ducks in a row before the process begins. Gaylen Paulson, Ph.D., Department of Management, McCombs School of Business and research expert in negotiations, emphasizes the importance of the “80/20 rule” for negotiating: spend 80% of your time in preparation, and 20% of your time engaged in the talks.
Planning ahead of time for virtual negotiation includes marking off some technology checklist items upfront:
  • Ensure your internet connection is strong—you don’t want your Wi-Fi to cut out at any time.
  • Practice with all the technology beforehand, including visuals through screen sharing and any audio/video needs.
  • Enter the virtual negotiation “boardroom” simultaneously with your team to demonstrate cohesion.
  • Turn your video camera on. It shows all parties involved that you are actively engaged in the conversation at hand.

2. Break the Ice

Building a foundation of trust and connection before a negotiation can lead to better outcomes for both parties. Before you get into the nitty-gritty of the discussion, focus on how you can nurture the relationship with your counterparts. Trust-building via digital platforms may be more challenging than when you’re physically in the same room, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It’s still a preferable alternative to talking on the phone, as you have more visual cues and context available.

84% of respondents in a July 2017 Forbes Insights survey said video conferencing is quickly becoming the norm for collaborating with external stakeholders like customers or partners as opposed to audio conferencing. 1

Making small talk, especially on topics unrelated to the negotiation, will help create a comfortable and open environment. This rapport building is beneficial in the long run, and allowing more space for schmoozing could be the difference between making or breaking the deal.

3. Follow the Rules of the Negotiation Highway

It’s important to create a set of agreed upon expectations and rules for engagement upfront. This should happen with all parties involved. Compared to being face-to-face, it may feel less natural and even awkward when it comes to talking over video conferencing so it’s important to be on the same page. Keep the following rules in mind:
  • It is difficult to know who’s turn it is to speak, so take extra time as to not speak over one another.
  • Spend time with your team beforehand to plan out ‘who says what’, and remain in sync with one another.
  • Speak slowly and clearly to lessen confusion and any misinterpretations.

4. Avoid Getting “Right Down to Business”

You may desire to get straight to the meat and potatoes of the negotiation in the virtual environment. Quite the opposite should be the case, though. Take the time to ask questions and gather all data and information you need to make the best offer. By not rushing in, you can take time to make a connection, get to know the other parties and pick up important details. Check out their backgrounds, and be sure to listen up for common interests: you never know what you might learn that could help you in your negotiations.
While the “first offer advantage” is a powerful tactic that holds up in virtual negotiations, being patient is key. You may adjust your offer based on additional information you discover. Acting hastily with your initial offer may not result in the best outcome for you, or your counterpart.

5. Adjust Nonverbal Communication to the Virtual Environment

One challenge of the virtual environment is not having access to the extensive nonverbal cues that are prevalent in person. You can’t show the same body language and gestures as when you are physically across the table. Keeping this in mind, there are several practical ways to communicate emotion effectively while videoconferencing:  
  • Eye contact. Looking into your camera lens instead of at others’ faces builds their confidence in you and conveys sincerity.
  • Posture. Maintain a straight back and relax shoulders and keep your chin up. Your counterparts will be looking to make sure your body language matches your words.
  • Hands down. Touching your face can give the impression you are anxious or nervous. Appear more confident and trustworthy by keeping your hands away from your face.
  • Talking head. Expanding the view of your face and upper body will show more of your body language, which will increase your authenticity.
  • Be present. As much as you think no one notices if you’re multitasking, they do. Avoid checking email and scrolling so you stay engaged.
  • Take breaks. It can be difficult to concentrate on discussions for multiple hours. Plan for “time-out” and “regroup” breaks frequently.

Successful Negotiating at Your Fingertips

Digital channels are an increasingly integral, and necessary, part of the negotiation process. Integrating virtual channels into your negotiations can have a positive impact and even open up new opportunities - especially when time, budget and physical distance are factors. By adjusting your behaviors accordingly, you’ll be more comfortable and boost your negotiation skills. With practice and patience, you can maximize digital channels to be a more effective and confident negotiator in the virtual world.