The Negotiator Magazine

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Dealing with regular clients. Here the opportunities of exiting the e-mail environment are greater, should we feel that more advantage can be gained by personal contact. If we choose to continue negotiating by e-mail, then the question arises of the appropriate use of written communications.

As with face-to-face negotiations, attention has to be given to:

The speed of response . Do we want to convey an image of keenness or indifference?
Tone. Formality or informality? Do we want to reflect the tone of our correspondent or sound different?
Openness. The amount of information given in proportion to the information requested?
The use of questions and their directness or obliqueness.
Conciseness versus vagueness
Initial conditionality of expression moving to the concreteness of final detailing.
Negotiating space: the reasonableness or extravagance of initial demands.

There are no right or wrong answers to the above considerations, but all are common to negotiating whether face-to-face, by telephone or by writing. What is wrong is to ignore them.

The additional problems that e-mail negotiating commonly bring are:

The basics of image: people tend to use the default typeface and type size. Is it appropriate to the image we wish to convey.? Is black the appropriate color? Do we incorporate our company logo (bearing in mind the amount of memory it might demand, and may cause accessibility problems for those receiving on BlackBerries). Use of smilies when addressing the MD is probably not to be advised!

Unthinking casualness. People often export the casualness they employ in personal e-mailing to the business sphere. We really do have to give regard to spelling and grammar. Poor spelling and grammar can detract from any image or authority we wish to convey. Slang expressions can cause offence. Very often it is inappropriate to use first names in certain cultures, but people often do so unthinkingly. Similarly professional qualifications and job titles may be omitted and cause offence.

Many individuals and cultures appreciate a short, direct style of communication. Others prefer something more indirect and unctuous. Unless there is a good reason to do otherwise, we should tend to use the approach that the other person appreciates. Any informality needs to be studied informality!

Constituencies.  As with face-to-face negotiations, we have to pay attention to who stands behind the negotiator: colleagues and bosses in front of whom they want to look good and who are often the real decision makers. We need to pay attention to who is on the copied list and also be aware that others may be recipients of blind copies. One of the problems with e-mail communications is that employees are swamped with correspondence because many people copy the world to cover their posteriors in case anything goes wrong. Similarly, message length can get out of control as people attach all previous correspondence. I know of people whose computers automatically bounce back any e-mail greater than two hundred words long and for which they are not the main recipient.

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October 2006