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The Do’s and Don’ts of Negotiating Over Email

Tyler Hall

A recent study by Mckinsey published on the Harvard Business Review website has found that the average full time worker spends around 28% of their work week reviewing and responding to emails. That’s roughly 2 and a half hours of your work day spent communicating electronically with colleagues, clients and other parties you are negotiating with. However, according to a survey commissioned by Adobe which featured on Huff Post, some professionals may actually be spending up to 6.3 hours per day on email! This may change moving forward with Gen Z preferring instant messaging, texting and collaboration forums.

It is clear that email is currently still a leading form of communication in the business world. And with the propensity for email to be misinterpreted when it comes to tone and intent - emailer beware!

With that in mind what are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to negotiating over email?

When to negotiate over email:

Negotiating via email is well suited to the Propose and Agree steps.

Emailing a proposal through makes it very clear as to what the give and take is between both parties. The Agree step then facilitates the confirmation of all the details of what has been agreed to so far or to completion. This is critical for all negotiations whether internal or external. It provides a clear definition concerning who is doing what, where and how. Recording this in (electronic) writing avoids any misunderstandings around expectations of what is to come. And if there are misunderstandings then they will likely be surfaced when sent to the other party. These misunderstandings should then be taken offline and explored over the phone or via face to face negotiation to gain further understanding and clarification.

The only other exception would be where you don’t care much about the deal or interaction and you just need to keep moving to spend your time on higher priority activities.

When NOT to negotiate over email:

Firstly, I would not facilitate any CRITICAL negotiation via email at all other than the Agree step or to set meetings and agenda points.

Don’t conduct the Argue step (discussion and discovery) via email or when your proposal is rejected. Face to face negotiation is best here. By communicating in person, you will gain so many opportunities to listen and pay attention to words the other party uses and observe their body language. People will give off signals regarding their areas of flexibility, constraints and priorities just by their choice of words. For example:

“It would be nice if we could have X but we definitely need Y.”


“We have a budget of around 200k.”

If you can’t get a face to face, phone is the next best option. You can then ask questions on the fly to uncover where the obstacles may be. It’s also much more efficient and effective than email. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to use a collaborative tone in the communication which email does quite poorly.

Happy negotiating,


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