The Negotiator Magazine

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Speed. The beauty of e-mail, namely speed, can be a huge liability. How many times have we had second thoughts having pressed the send button? This is especially true of e-mails sent in anger. The general rule is - don’t. Leave it at least six hours, then decide if the anger is appropriate. Usually it isn’t .

Lack of nuance.  In face-to-face and telephone negotiations, we can employ body language and verbal tone to convey suggestions. We may know some business counterparts so well that we can use risqué language with a pleasant smile and jocular tone. In written communication we can’t: the expletive stands there in black and white, screaming at us. The written word reads harshly. And very often if people can take offence, they will, just as they may enjoy feeling superior at spotting our spelling and grammatical mistakes.

Finality.  In spoken negotiations we may want to float things such as excessive opening offers, initial rejections or exaggerated demands that we can back away from as the negotiation progresses, as if they had never been said. We can’t do that in written communications: it’s there in black and white and can be held in evidence against us. We have to be very careful in balancing conditionality to our demands without signaling either take-it-or-leave-it or weakness.

In conclusion, to a great extent we’re not talking about particular difficulties in e-mail negotiating, as much as the particularities of doing business in writing. The negotiating essentials are the same. Writing brings particular problems of conveying tone and finality. E-mail’s advantages and disadvantages arise from the same sources: speed, proliferation and casualness.

Jonathan Sims, Principal of the Human Development Centre (HDC), has been tutoring the Workshop in Negotiation Skills since 1989. You may visit the Human Development Centre at its website: www.profitpie.com Jonathan Sims can be reached by e-mail at profitpie@aol.com.

 

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October 2006