Virtual Challenges for the Global Negotiator!
The negotiator, in the age of a global pandemic, is at a distinct disadvantage in that it is not possible, to meet face-to-face. Hence, the next best form of meeting is via virtual communication. This robs them of the opportunity to build rapport and establish relationships of trust, which opens the door to having a genuine connection. Another casualty for negotiators, is the ability to have “Back-Door” private meetings, out of the glare of the public eye and the media.
Technology Failures: Negotiation disaster may strike due to the loss of internet connection at precisely the wrong moment! Momentum is lost and the time ensuing may cause the other side to change their minds. Therefore, time plays a critical role; either too much time spent in front of a screen which is intense and exhausting, not to mention the challenges of different time zones. Today’s diplomat must be a diplomatic technician as well as solid negotiator.
The Basics: The negotiator must dress as if he/she was meeting in the hallowed halls of the UN. Investing in a microphone and special lamp/light, placed in front of the face, is highly recommended to ensure one doesn’t appear as if they’re lurking in the shadows. A distraction-free background is today’s virtual reality.
Moderator / Facilitator / Intermediary / Technical Support: For high-level negotiations, it is prudent to have a person who fills the foregoing categories. This allows the negotiator to concentrate on the business at hand. When technical difficulties arise, they know how to handle it efficiently. The bonus is that this person may act as an intermediary if conflict arises, or when the negotiations are going nowhere. A critical point is that they will maintain precedence for the speakers, ensuring all are included and rank and good manners are respected.
Non-Verbal Communication: The negotiator must use non-verbal communication judiciously; every facial twitch, smile and hand gesture must be carefully considered and nervous habits avoided. If the negotiator (on the other side), adopts a “poker-faced” expression, it is suggested that one mimics their expression in order to build rapport; no easy fete on the Zoom Platform!
Most valuable negotiating skills for a virtual negotiator.
The ability to be concise, well-prepared and creative along with technical skills.
Patience: “Time is money,” in the United States, but elsewhere, patience will be required as, in Middle Eastern or South American cultures, messages may be couched in stories. Long periods of silence are normal, particularly in Asia. This may be disconcerting, especially in a Zoom format and to move things along, the negotiator may make concessions that were not pre-planned, thus losing the concessions one was keeping until the end-game. In essence, although uncomfortable for some, match silence for silence!
Listening skills: The best conversationalist is the best listener! Listen to your intuition for unspoken messages, lean in to the monitor to show you’re actively listening. Do not interrupt.
This is but a brief overview of the critical skills needed to be an astute negotiator, particularly, when using virtual technology.