How to Negotiate Online over Zoom, Teams and Skype

January 05, 2021 - Dom Barnard

For the past few years, many businesses have been increasing their online operations. Processes such as prospecting, consultations, training, sales, negotiations, and hiring are now moving online.

Video conferencing is one of the main areas for virtual communications, with popular platforms including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Skype.

The 2020 global restrictions have inspired more companies - and forced others - to employ a work-from-home policy. Are you prepared to excel as an online negotiator? Some online communication skills you can reinforce through a negotiating training course include:

Prepare for the call

Video negotiations allow us to meet face-to-face quickly and easily. Yet, video meetings create some unique challenges that need preparation.

Preparations may involve pre-determining the key roles and your negotiation strategy. For instance:

  • Who in your team has the authority to trade concessions?
  • Do you have a list of acceptable compromises you can make?
  • Do you have a list of benefits you would like to ask for?

Also, make sure you plan how you will position yourself in video calls. Avoid sitting in front of bright lights. Be aware of windows and lighting, so the other participants can see you clearly.

Practice the technical setups

According to a study by the RAND Corporation, technical breakdowns are the most common challenges to virtual collaboration. For instance, it's not unusual to suddenly lose video or audio in the middle of a negotiation.

If you have a meeting scheduled on a new setup, train yourself on how to use the setup by practicing using the platform. Take a short online course on using the app to familiarize yourself with screen sharing and any other features you will be likely to use.

For a better experience, invest in a headset or boundary / unidirectional microphone. The external microphone improves sound quality while the earphones protect you from audio interference.

Learn how to record calls, as recordings make it possible to review events. You can also use recordings to catch others up later, especially legal teams who may not be present at the meeting.

Observe etiquette

Negotiating over Skype, Teams and Zoom calls for a mix of basic video etiquette and standard office etiquette.

The usual common-sense advice applies:

  • Arrive on time
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Avoid using your phone to chat separately from the meeting

However, you’ll also need to consider aspects unique to the online mode such as informing everyone if you will be recording the meeting.

Observe etiquette

For a smoother meeting, consider adopting an always-on video policy, depending on the specifics of your meeting and team policies. It tends to feel awkward when someone's video stream keeps disappearing and reappearing.

Being seen by others and seeing others makes it easier to relate and to remain engaged during the negotiation. By starting the meeting with your video on, you dramatically increase the probability of your meeting participants switching on their video cameras.

Most people will understand if your kids, pets, or spouse make an appearance. Yet, some negotiators may view such interruptions as a sign of unprofessional conduct. Though most people relish the chance to say hi to your kids and pets, try and log in from a quiet, closed room.

Let members of your household know not to interrupt. Consider choosing or uploading a background overlay to prevent real-life distractions from intruding.

Mute your mic

Silence gives you time to think. Also, having your mic on mute makes it impossible to talk over other people. With a muted mic, you can focus more on listening to others and not merely waiting for your turn to speak.

A muted mic protects other negotiators from annoying background noises, such as from a rotating fan or air-conditioner. Muting also fixes any irritating echoes and electronic hums. Zoom allows you to unmute in an instant by holding down your space bar.

Structure your proposals

If you don’t have an agenda, in-person meetings tend to be non-linear. Conversations start from one thing, diverging a few times into other things. Virtual meetings can also be challenging to keep on track. Keep negotiations focused and linear by preparing a well-structured agenda or proposal in advance.

Send your agenda to the other side ahead of time. The agenda doesn't have to be detailed but having at least an outline provides others an opportunity to prepare for the meeting.

Schedule the next call before you finish the current meeting. Knowing you will have another meeting after this one allows the discussion’s momentum to keep going and reduces the pressure to rush decisions.

In business communication courses, you are trained to think of the negotiation as part of a longer process. Avoid the awkwardness of trying to set up a follow-up meeting at the end of an unsuccessful session.

Coordinate with your team

Just as with in-person negotiations, virtual meetings also offer opportunities to consult with your teammates. With most platforms, you don’t have to wait for breaks to consult with a colleague on the side.

Coordinate with your team

For example, on both Skype and Zoom, you can begin a side chat with one or more of your team members. Check in with your team regularly, away from the central meeting. Use these side chats to agree on concessions and to plan on winning more value. However, if a side chat within your team gets intense, request for a break from the central meeting.

Consider using Zoom’s private meeting rooms for breakout sessions for each team to digest new information about the negotiation and better brainstorm before re-engaging.

Schedule breaks

You may have agreed that your next meeting will take two hours, but have you discussed breaks? Forgetting to factor in break times is more common for video meetings. Ensure you include break periods when forming a virtual meeting’s agenda. An example would be to take a ten-minute break every hour.

If someone on your team is the meeting facilitator, then use this role to mute everyone. Muting secures your team from inadvertently addressing the other side with your internal concerns. Breaks allow everyone to:

  • Fight against time lag and fatigue
  • Consider progress
  • Reframe offers and counteroffers
  • Consider the other side's position, proposals, and counterproposals
  • Brainstorm possibilities for creative value addition