How to successfully negotiate in the new digital world

Derek Arden, pictured with his best-selling book, "Win-Win - How to get a winning result from persuasive negotiations".

One of the speakers at a recent Infrastructure Intelligence webinar was negotiation expert Derek Arden. Here he offers his thoughts on online negotiations in an increasingly digital business world.  

We all always look to strive for ‘win-win’ outcomes in negotiations. The benefits are clear to see for our long-term relationships, however, when we are conducting the negotiations electronically, as will increasingly be the case in the new digital landscape we are all having to get to grips with, it can be trickier. 

I’ve put together a simple and straightforward seven-point plan of tried and tested strategies that I would recommend for your online success. While following them all won’t guarantee you success, they will make a win-win outcome much more likely than if you didn’t use them.

1. Set the meeting up yourself. In other words, be the arranger 

The benefits are that you have control of the switches. With agreement, you can record the meeting and also download the recording straight away. This gives you the opportunity to review the controversial parts of any discussion or where you suspect the people you are meeting with might not have been as open with you as they should have been. Do all this before you make a counter offer.

2. Make sure you know how stuff works

Whatever platform you are using (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google), make sure you know how to work all the controls. No one wants to be struggling with the chat room, the participant controls or screen sharing etc in an important situation. By being confident with the tool bars, you will appear to be more confident in the negotiations. It’s also worth sending the agenda in advance and asking the other side what they would like to add as well. This is a tactic to avoid no surprises and is courteous.

3. Don’t be on your own

Make sure that you have at least one observer in the electronic meeting and on the end of a mobile. In the planning stage, agree the key questions that you are going to ask and get the observer(s) to watch the body language carefully when the other side answers your pre-prepared questions. Remember that the quality of the questions you ask, determines the quality of the answers you get.

4. Think about and plan your time outs

Agree in advance with your team when and how you will take a time out. The best practice would be to switch the virtual meeting off, go into another room and call your observers. Make sure you that you have your internal structure and tactics sorted in advance to decide on your moves during the time out. This will help you to determine how you might change your best position, target position, walk away position and alternative position.

Be very careful not to make internal calls in the same room and assume you can’t be heard or go into a digital breakout room to ensure that you don’t accidentally broadcast your thoughts to the other side. Breakout rooms are fraught with technical difficulties. In a recent high court case PCP partners + Amanda Staveley v Barclays Bank Plc. (June 2020) the Zoom was still running and one of the defence attorneys called Ms Staveley a liar, for all to hear!

5. Always consider your variables

Never forget the value of non-monetary items; these are generally called variables. These are items such as payment terms, immediate payments, extra business etc. Make sure you list these in advance and consider as and when you change your position. This is best done during the time out. Never forget to trade any concessions for something valuable in return.

6. Don’t be rushed

Do not get pressed into a decision which you wouldn’t have made in a live room, just because Zoom or another online platform takes potentially longer. Remember that your time outs have three benefits: - 

i. They give you time to review your negotiating position.

ii. They give you time to take out any emotion.

iii. They give you a break to discuss with your colleagues to get their thoughts on the next move.

7. Take your time

Remember that there is often a time delay while the Zoom goes to the satellite and back. Take plenty of breaks, beware of Zoom fatigue and don’t rush a decision when you are not sure. Remember the age-old adage: ‘Sleep on it’. You can always come back and start from where you left off and thinking things through gives you even more time to assess and review.

Enjoy your win-win negotiations!

Derek Arden is a professional negotiating adviser, he has worked with consultants, constructors and engineers running advanced negotiation masterclasses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Find out more at www.derekarden.co.uk or contact him at Derek@derekarden.co.uk