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How to Negotiate — Virtually


For the past few months, almost all negotiations have been occurring virtually. But even before Covid-19, an increasing number of dealmakers were connecting through digital tools.  Video technologies, low-cost teleconferencing, and email have all become efficient ways for teams to prepare together and to negotiate with counterparts.


What does research tell us about virtual negotiations?  Are they more or less effective at creating value for counterparties?


The picture is mixed.


First, the bad news:  Negotiating virtually tends to leave parties with poorer objective results and feeling less warmth and trust toward one another. Moreover, a meta-analysis conducted in 2002 suggests that group decision-making is less effective, less satisfying, and more protracted when groups don’t communicate face-to-face.


When it comes to email — which introverts are particularly drawn to in conflict situations — we tend to be less cooperative, perhaps because we are less inhibited in expressing complaints and negative opinions.  We also run a greater risk of misunderstandings:  Justin Kruger, Nick Epley and their colleagues have found that we tend to overestimate how well our messages have been understood by recipients. And a 2019 study suggests that – surprise, surprise – we’re also worse at reading emotions over email.


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