Yokl: Is Technology Degrading your Negotiations Skills?

I have a love/hate relationship with technology since I believe that it is greatly decreasing our face-to-face communications which is the basis for all positive human interaction. A 2008 study by researchers at University of Illinois confirms this fact when the study leaders assembled a group of 200 students to perform teamwork tasks. They then discovered that those students that were working face-to-face vs. instant messaging or videoconferencing showed greater cooperation, trust and honesty with their peers.  Not a big surprise to me!

I also see this overreliance on technology spilling over to our negotiations, since I, like you, am negotiating every day with clients and vendors to obtain fair and equitable agreements. Nonetheless, I’m finding that very few people want to talk face-to-face any longer. I feel like I’m losing this battle (e-mail vs. human contact) since my style of negotiations is either face-to-face or at least by phone so I can interact in real-time.

Just recently, I purchased a new copier and a folder/inserter machine for my office from two different suppliers and I rarely could get one of these sales reps on the phone to negotiate these transactions.  Even if I left a message for him, he responded to me by e-mail. By the way, his e-mails looked like Tweets that I needed my son to interpret.

The other sales rep’s communication style was a little better, but he usually e-mailed me instead of calling me, which made our negotiations frustrating, lengthy and unsatisfying. After I purchased these commodities from these two companies I’m still having challenges with their billing, service and terms and conditions, but now I’m not even getting an e-mail from either sales rep to discuss my grievances, but that’s another story for another day.

This brings me back to the topic of why I believe that e-mails are degrading our negotiations skills. Negotiations are a living, breathing and stimulating human interaction that requires high level cooperative skills — where everyone wins. It’s not a battle of e-mails! When interacting face-to-face, “you’re getting more information from the people around you,” says coauthor Gregory Northcraft of the 2008 study I just talked about, “which is allowing you to trust them (the parties involved in your negotiations) more”. 

You are also able to read the body language of the people in the room that can tell you more about how the negotiations are going than many other observable facts.  Face-to-face negotiation likewise heightens your instincts, listening skills and improves your levels of questioning. As you can see, negotiation is a cooperative process that involves much more than replying to an e-mail that has been sent to you and then responding to without much thought.

So the next time someone wants to negotiate by e-mail, remember that you are at a major disadvantage since you will be giving up the real-time human interaction that makes negotiating an art and a science — not just a transaction to get over with quickly. 

Robert T. Yokl

Chief Value Strategist

Strategic Value Analysis® in Healthcare


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