A couple of weeks ago, SIX 7 Radius LLC, had the pleasure of partnering up with the American Negotiation Institute on Virtual Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Summit. Not only this was an amazing experience and very educational, but I also took a lot of notes and I thought why not share it with everyone.
The virtual summit focused on how we can overcome the current situation we are living in, such as a global pandemic. The business still must run, and communications with customers, suppliers, and vendors still must happen. Yes, the businesses cannot operate within the office space, but we have this amazing thing called technology which allows us to communicate electronically.
We all have texted, called, emailed, and conducted an online meetings at some point in our life, but in the last two months, these methods of communication have been a great use for everyone as we could not have face-to-face communication.
Kwame Christian Esp. and his team did such an amazing job at bringing together professionals of different fields to openly talk about the advantages and disadvantages of negotiating and resolving conflict online, and the challenges of doing so using texting, calling, emailing and having online video chat meetings.
During the conversation, it was pointed out how we can take advantage of not having big conversations face to face anymore and take a moment and think about our responses. Often, we feel anxious giving answers to our supervisor, client, or co-worker right on the spot, and by switching all communication via email instead, it allows us to reflect on the best answer to that spicy question we just got faced with. Electronic communication not only allows you to gain time but it also saves time and money. Have you ever had to drive across town to have a meeting or take a flight out of state to talk about an important contract? Well now, you can do so via online video meeting platforms such as Zoom, Skype, or Teams. You can sit at the comfort of your house and dive into the contract and close the deal.
Let’s understand this thought, as much as video chatting has its own benefit, it is still not the same as the face to face conversation. When you video chat you are missing out on the body language and the human contact. For instance, I am a big handshake person!
When a friend of mine told me, he had the pleasure of meeting the last two US presidents while working with the Department of Defense the first questions I asked him was “Who’s handshake was better?” Yes, he found my question very weird, but a handshake tells a lot about the person. Handshake translates confidence, authority, presence, culture, and a lot more. Again, I am not a body language expert but I do love reading body language and understanding the person I am working with differently by watching the nonverbal cues.
Another important point that was brought up during the summit was the fact that you can create an exit strategy much quicker while Zooming or Skyping. The exit strategy can be an “I have another call to jump to”, “I would love to think this through, let catch up soon”, or even the Freeze Mode Card. Yes, people do it! They pretend as their screen froze and they end your call when things get uncomfortable for them. I do not think is professional, but let’s think about it. Have you ever been to a meeting where you just wanted to leave and you could not? I am sure I am not the only one that has been in such a position. In the real world, you grow by learning how to handle these types of situations and become a better negotiator and conflict resolution expert. Technology, however, does not allow us to do that, even though that is not the right conflict resolution method you might want to pursue as a professional, unfortunately, people do it. Now let me play the Devil’s Advocate for a moment! Did that client of yours really froze on one of his/her meetings last week or did he/she really use the Freeze Mode Card? Maybe the internet connection really went down and now you are overthinking the situation. Well, these are obstacles that we must face with while turning communication online.
Some of the biggest challenges that were brought up during this summit were about the difficulties in closing a deal without the person in front of you. You might be the best negotiator in the world, but you might not be educated enough on today’s technology. Technology advances every day and it is hard to keep up sometimes. Even when you are a tech-savvy person the internet connection might start acting up and ruin your meting by causing a lot of lag time which would even sound like you are talking over the other party. We also tend to look at ourselves in the video room and not the other person, that just happens without even realizing it and that looks like we are avoiding eye contact. Again, eye contact is a very important body language factor during a negotiating and conflict resolution moment. How about having that one person that records every meeting they have? Do you even want to be recorded, and if you do not how can you say no to the recording without sounding rude? There is a lot of camera-shy individuals out there that just lose focus when in front of a camera and cannot give 100% of themselves during the meeting. These are things you cannot control when using electronic communication, and issues that you do not have to face when having an in-person conversation.
A big question raised during our summit was also the loss of privacy while using online communication methods. For example, if I video chats from my house part of my privacy is exposed and people know my office or living room set up. I personally do not mind as I have a set place in my house where I conduct my video calls and the background shows my bookshelf, but a lot of people mind that. Likewise, if you decide to negotiate and resolve conflict via email, you also lose the privacy of your email. Your email can be forwarded to someone else, and that someone else can even be your competitor that your “client” leveraged to get a “better” deal. These are some core issues we would not have if we had a face to face conversation.
Emailing is used a lot nowadays to solve matters and resolve problems. A big question however that was raised is the fact that the email does not come with a pitch and a tone, and the reader sets up the pitch and the tone of your email just by what you have written. I am sure I am not the only one that had a misunderstanding over an email at some point because the reader read it differently from what you meant to say. How can we even solve this issue? Can it even be solved? The summit participates shares two best ways of avoiding email misunderstanding: 1) read the email twice or three times to make sure it sounds good and you did not misspell someone’s name or misspelled a word and now the whole sentence is ruined…IT HAPPENS… 2) watch out for the “!”, use them as needed. Also, be mindful, once that email is sent, it can be used in your advantage or disadvantage at any point in your life as you are the author of it.
Even though email has its pros and cons, as I talked about it above, I still have learned that emailing someone is the best route to go sometimes. You can email someone at midnight about a contract or questions on a project, but you cannot text them or call them during late hours. A lot of people also do not like sharing their personal phone number and decide to get Google numbers or forward their office calls to their cellphone, which is a privacy everyone is entitled to. I personally use my Google number often as it is a free service as well. Once you have a Gmail account you can also retain a Google number with the area code of your choice and have the calls forwarded to your phone or just set up a standard voicemail.
So how can we leverage all these pros and cons during online negotiation and conflict resolution? Something very important is to set goals on every call you conduct, that being a video call or a phone call. You can set proper expectations by emailing the other party before the call to go over the highlights or after the call to conduct a summary. I prefer both as I like written trails to everything I do, but you can choose to do so either before or after the call. By doing so you also show professionalism and demonstrate your works worth so when your client, for example, starts having doubts and maybe start thinking of going a different route they can just look at how detail-oriented you are and delete those dangerous thoughts out of their mind. It also helps you to keep track of what you have accomplished. Often when you are working non-stop you might feel overwhelmed and feel as you are not accomplishing a lot. Anyhow, by looking back at the emails and seeing how much you have covered with your clients it boosts up your own confidence, makes you feel great and you no longer have to doubt yourself about your productivity.
Frame your agenda, leverage your pros, and learn how to manage the cons of each communication method and you might just find yourself on a new professionalism level. It is very important to switch your mindset to “How can I make this work” while facing obstacles, write down the pros and cons lists of every situation, and always add your special element to everything. Once you do so, no matter how many cons you might be facing with during these times you will see how turning your biggest obstacle into an opportunity will aid you towards your goals more than you ever thought.
I want to also give a special thank you, again, to Kwame Christian Esq., Katherine Knapke and the whole team at American Negotiation Institute for allowing me to partner up with them for the summit and opening discussion to matters we were all facing with but were having a hard time labeling them. Not only I had the pleasure of having Kwame ( Epis. #0029 - Finding Confidence in Conflict, and Epis. #0054 - Negotiate Like a Boss) and Katherine (#0031 - Ask with Confidence) on my podcast, but Kwame has been on it twice. Kwame’s podcast Negotiate Anything and Katherine’s podcast Ask with Confidence are great tools to use if you want to bring your negotiation and conflict resolution skills to the next level. American Negotiation Institute has also scheduled a new Virtual Negotiation Training for June 4th from 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM EST which I would highly recommend. You can register for it at https://americannegotiationinstitute.com/virtual-negotiation-training/.