Negotiating Via Email

Email usually isn't a very productive negotiation tool. But if you are forced to negotiate via email, you'll need to understand the nuances of electronic negotiation mediums.

It would be nice if you could compartmentalize negotiation into a neat and tidy corner of your business life, but that isn't how it works.

Sometimes negotiations happen in a time and place that is not of your own choosing - and these days, business leaders are increasingly forced to negotiate via email.

Email is the preferred communication method for most serious business professionals. It gives busy leaders the ability to communicate on their own time schedule and creates a written record of the conversation. With mobile technology taking center stage in business communications, email is rapidly becoming the standard platform for all kinds of business communication.

Unfortunately, email is also a highly impersonal form of communication. Email messages are often short, cryptic, and subject to individual interpretation. Compared to a phone call or a face-to-face meeting, emails don't convey vocal intonation or facial expressions. Since non-verbal communication is an important part of negotiation strategy, negotiating via email can present major challenges.

  • Look for other options. The best advice is to avoid email negotiations whenever possible. Although you may be able to use email to your advantage, it's more likely that email negotiation will end in confusion, impasse, and hard feelings. Despite the convenience of email, other telecommunication solutions (e.g. video conferencing and online conferencing providers) are more suitable for negotiating when a sit-down meeting isn't an option.
  • Start with face-to-face meetings or phone call. Statistically, the odds of a successful negotiation increase when email negotiations are preceded and augmented with face-to-face meetings or phone calls. A negotiation that is conducted exclusively via email doesn't provide the personal context that's required for a positive resolution.
  • Allow time for responses. One of the complaints we frequently hear about email negotiations is that they don't allow enough time for responses, particularly when the negotiation involves more than two parties. When you don't clearly state the time horizon for responses, you create a scenario in which some parties may not be able to weigh in before a final decision is made.
  • Potential benefits. If generosity and equity aren't part of your negotiation strategy, the flip side of the coin is that you can use email as a tool to dominate the process. Rather than giving everyone an equal share of the conversation, you can inundate the process with follow-up emails and attachments to skew the conversation in your direction and to preclude the input of individuals with differing points of view.

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