Despite our new dependence on effective virtual negotiation, as a nation, we’re not very good at it. Negotiating online requires the same skills as face to face conversations. However, when it comes to online meetings, the majority are guilty of a lack of preparation and planning.
The basis of all negotiations is to have discussions that lead the way to an agreement that is beneficial to both parties. This principal has not changed despite how we communicate. Based on findings from our world renowned behaviour research, we offer five essential way to help you successfully prepare and plan for a negotiation.
1. Understand the difference between planning and preparing
This is one of the key differences between skilled negotiators and average negotiators. Both will spend time preparing by gathering all the facts, figures and data. But for average negotiators, information gathering is where the pre-negotiation work tends to stop. Skilled negotiators take it further. They will spend time actually planning for the negotiation by working out how to use the information they have gathered. They will ask themselves questions such as: How do we best use this information in our negotiation? How do we use it to make us more effective? They are clear about what they want from the negotiation, what priorities the other party will have and what their most attractive levers will be.
Try to remember that preparing is simply gathering facts, figures, variables and options. Planning takes it to the next stage and consists of the careful consideration of the priorities associated with the information you have and the behaviours that you are going to deploy once you get into the virtual negotiation. Both are of the upmost importance for negotiating virtually, but ensuring you fully consider the detail of the negotiation will set you apart and instantly make you a more skilled negotiator.
2. Identify your levers
A lever is something that costs you less than the value the other party places upon it. This means that it can be traded for something that you value. Taking the time to identify your levers before you begin your virtual negotiation is key - it give you the ability to be more flexible and reasonable in the eye of your opponent. When trying to identify these levers, start by comparing the priorities on each of the negotiable issues that you want to discuss. This will allow you to see what matters most so you can try and identify their levers as well as your own.
Remember that effective negotiation involves movement by both parties towards an outcome. This means you should avoid 'giving' something without 'getting' something in return. This is where levers can really come into play. When you need to move from any stated position, make a conditional offer such as "I might be able to move on X, if you are prepared to move on Y." Having already identified your levers in the planning phase will allow you to make an offer that appears to be of more benefit to the opposing party.
3. Take the time to understand your opponent
In any negotiation, it’s vital that in your planning stage you take the time to truly understand your opponent’s position . Consider how much power they hold and how you can minimise the impact of their strengths. You must consider this in advance as part of your planning and ensure it is a key part in your systematic approach to negotiating. Power in negotiation is everything. Planning ahead and really questioning your opponent to understand their true position so you can uncover/exploit their weaknesses is essential to creating power in your virtual negotiations.
Also ensure that you don’t underestimate the importance of values. This is more than just identifying a simple interest in your opponent. Taking the time to dig a little deeper can unearth some potential shared values - this could be anything from environmental policies to the similarities in their CSR structure that coincide well with the values of your company’s organisation. This common ground can act as an area to drive a negotiation forward. It gives you a talking point and a shared interest to discuss in the virtual meeting. Taking the time to really dig deep and understand these issues in your planning phase will serve you well.
4. Learn how to behave well under pressure
Preparing and planning is of the upmost importance when it comes to negotiating virtually, but in reality, it’s likely that you may be faced with an impromptu negotiation whilst on a call – where no preparation and planning can be done. When this happens, all you have to fall back on are the personal negotiating skills that you have developed. If this situation does arise, it’s vital to ensure that you have mastered the art of learning to behave well under pressure. Skilled negotiators have the flexibility to match their behaviour to suit the situation.
A virtual meeting can still feel a bit strange and brings an additional sense of pressure, particularly when faced with people who adopt a ‘low reacting’ style. When negotiating in this situation, it’s really important that you don’t adopt behaviours that could be frustrating or irritating. If the opposing party is made up of low reactors (which can be a negotiation tactic), it’s easy to fall into the trap of jumping around, leaving some areas out of the negotiation and mixing up the sequence of the points you intend to cover. If this situation arises, try not to let the meeting standards slip and ensure all your negotiable issues are covered.
5. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail as the old saying goes
Ultimately as the saying goes – if you fail to prepare, you’re preparing to fail. Skilled negotiators do a number of things before embarking on deal making. Here are the top things to include and consider as part of your preparation strategy for any virtual negotiation:
- Develop a credible fallback that describes what you will do if this particular negotiation fails entirely
- Identify as many negotiable issues as possible, prioritise them and develop a negotiable range for each
- Calculate the cost of concessions for each negotiable issue to avoid impulsive and expensive mistakes in the heat of virtual discussion
- Repeat the whole process, but this time try to think as the other party
- Spend time identifying 'common ground' and plan how to use it in the negotiation
- Manage feelings of power and identify the possible overlaps, trades and levers to give you the maximum flexibility if you need to bargain.