How to Negotiate Online: What You Need to Know

Effective communication is one of the most important factors to help conclude negotiations successfully. Apart from using words, people use body language and facial cues to communicate. 

When you can read the other person’s nonverbal cues, you have a higher chance of understanding each other. Unfortunately, it’s harder to follow nonverbal cues on online platforms. So, how do you navigate negotiations from behind a screen? Here’s what you need to know.  

Open with small talk 

Beginning a conversation on an online negotiation platform is usually more awkward than when engaging in physical discussions across a table. Even with video conferencing, visual cues are less obvious and more stilted, making it difficult for talks to feel natural and to be at ease launching into important topics.

That’s why starting the discussions off with small talk helps to loosen up the atmosphere before getting into the main discussions – while warming up the other side. 

By using small talk to break the ice, you remove some of the awkwardness and establish some common ground, paving the way for mutual understanding and clarity. 

However, it’s important to put in some groundwork by researching the other side’s background. Research will help you determine which subjects are off-limits to avoid offending the other person.  

Focus on the discussion

When you’re talking face to face, multitasking isn’t usually an option. However, when you’re on an online platform hidden behind the screen, it’s easy to get distracted by email or message notifications on your phone or computer. 

So, it helps to take care of distractions before you start the negotiations. For example, you can switch off your phone, mute desktop notifications, and clear up your surroundings so you can be focused entirely on the discussion at hand. 

On video calls, make sure to shift your screen further back to allow the other person to see your gestures and to allow them to keep focus on your side of the call.

Take care of security issues 

In high-stakes negotiations, online forums pose a high risk. Hackers may intercept and disrupt the conversation. In addition, when you’re video conferencing, you can’t see who else is privy to the discussion off camera on the other side. That’s why it’s crucial to address security issues before you get into the talks.

For instance, you can engage professionals to tighten your security and data privacy. Also, consider using documents like nondisclosure agreements to prevent sensitive information from leaving the room. 

Once security threats have been minimized, you can better focus your energies on the discussion without worrying about security pitfalls.

Practice active listening and communication 

With online platforms, you miss out on some of the advantages of in-person exchanges that help people connect, like eye contact. Even on video calls, the placement of your camera and monitor means that when you’re looking at the speaker, it won’t feel that way to the other side.

This feeling of disconnection can stir up tension throughout the discussions. 

To thaw some of the tension, it helps to make everything you say as crystal clear as possible. Establish some parameters before you start the talks, like allowing a timeout at any point to clarify issues. 

In addition, practice active communication skills like:

  • Giving your undivided attention.
  • Showing the other person you’re listening, for instance by leaning in when they’re talking.
  • Paraphrasing what the other person says ensures you’re on the same page.

Also, if possible on the software you’re using, place the video image of the other side below your camera to simulate eye contact. 

Build trust 

To effectively create win-win solutions, it’s important to build a level of trust between negotiating sides. 

When the people involved in the discussions have built trust, it’s easier to create a mutual exchange of value that benefits both sides. 

For instance, when haggling over the price of a product, the seller can offer the buyer better terms like a longer payment period instead of a lower price. If the buyer trusts that the seller wants a mutually beneficial deal, not just to hold on to all the value for themselves, there are higher chances of the buyer accepting the deal. 

Online negotiations via different digital platforms usually bring a sense of human detachment and anonymity, making it harder to build trust. For that reason, it helps to go out of your way to build rapport. 

Consider creating trust with the other side by:

  • Researching more about the other person. When you know more about who you’re dealing with, you’ll likely find it easier to adapt your approach and flow on the same wavelength.
  • Heightening your emotional feelers. The detachment that comes with online talks makes it harder to sense emotions. That’s why it helps to go the extra mile in anticipating and addressing emotions. Check in with the other side to make sure emotions don’t escalate on either side to avoid derailing the talks. 

Overall, to succeed in online negotiations across different platforms, you will likely need to go the extra mile to establish trust and clarity to compensate for the restrictions in communicating beyond words. When done well, your online negotiations can be as fruitful as those you conduct in person.