Though video conferencing has been in existence for some time now, with the current global pandemic turning the world upside down in terms needing to practice social distancing, restrictions on travel and more people working from home – there has been a significant increase in virtual meetings and online negotiation.
Here at Scotwork, we also recently launched our virtual negotiation training and online consulting services which include deal preparation workshops, pressure testing and negotiating on behalf of our clients.
With this in mind, we’ve collated a number of key considerations and tips from our consultants which augment our 8 step negotiation framework, giving you the best chance of achieving win-win negotiation outcomes when negotiating virtually.
How do you read the room? On Zoom.
I asked a friend recently how he was coping with social isolation.
“I have never been more efficient,” he proclaimed enthusiastically. “All those meetings I used to attend are now on Zoom: no commuting, no looking for parking, so much more efficient. I’m getting twice as much done.”
Commentators are seeing work from home (WFH) as becoming a permanent feature of the economy when all restrictions are lifted. Currently 15% of the workforce is able to work from home and this is predicted to rise to 30% post pandemic.
Of course one of the key enablers of working from home are the video conferencing apps Zoom, Skype, Teams and Google Hangouts. There has been an explosion in their use for meetings, catchups and negotiations. If the trend continues, face-to-face meetings could become a rarity. However a word of caution is necessary. Some of these applications have been available for years and their promoters have predicted a decline in both domestic and international travel through use of video conferencing. Prior to the current pandemic this has never happened. People have still felt the need to meet face to face even if it involves arduous travel. They did this for good reason as Zoom and the others have a number of shortcomings inherent in this technology.
The complexity of person-to-person communication is the defining feature of human progress. It is estimated that up to 55% of meaning gleaned, is non-verbal. It is what we see added to, what we hear that makes successful communication. Kate Murphy the author of You’re Not Listening: What You Are Missing and Why It Matters has written about the shortcomings that are implicit in video conferencing technologies.
Encoding and decoding processes produce images which are distorted-smoothed, blurred and often out of sync with audio. Some of these changes we are not even conscious of, but they confuse us and the brain strains to compensate and fill in the “missing bits.” As a result we feel fatigued and vaguely dissatisfied.
Another weakness is that all important eye contact, so influential in building trust, is absent. People are looking upwards, downwards or sideways depending on their video setup. As a result they appear less trustworthy and shifty. Murphy reports that in the legal system video depositions, hearings and trials may be unfair for this reason alone.
The other problem is that when on a conference call, there is a tendency to look at ourselves (surprise) rather than the other participants. If we add the security issues that have been exposed and the distractions of the home office: barking dogs, demanding toddlers and the attempt to multitask (still present face to face but more obvious) the limitations become apparent.
The gaps in audio in the transmission also breach the conversational rule of no gap no overlap reports the Economist. The longer pauses between speakers than would occur in a face-to-face conversation make speakers appear less trustworthy. The tendency for speakers to talk over each other and the time it takes to resolve these interruptions also causes frustration and fatigue. Fuzzy reception and foreign accents can also make it more difficult to understand some speakers and this increases distrust. In some cases it may be better to use a more traditional means of communication – the telephone.
While the trend to the video communication is irreversible, an awareness of these limitations will enable the tools to be used more effectively as a supplement to the relationship and trust building face-to-face meeting we have practiced throughout our evolution as a species.
Invest in Quality Technology
Louis Werth and Jacob Hall
It cannot be understated the importance of having quality technology which is stable. The obvious limitations of virtual communication which are mentioned above are often compounded by technology issues such as poor internet connection, broken microphones, and grainy camera footage. Our best advice above all else it to test your technology BEFORE the meeting! This minimises frustration and wasted time on the call. Nobody wants to be THAT person who can’t get their camera working while everybody else waits!
Please check out our blog next week for part two of tips and considerations for negotiating virtually.
Until then, happy negotiating!
About the author:
Elizabeth develops, co-ordinates and maintains the vehicles and tools which reflect Scotwork Australia’s identity as the world-leader in negotiation training and advisory services. She is thus responsible for Scotwork’s branding and collateral, marketing communications, digital marketing and social media.