What to Be Aware of when Negotiating Over Email


Digitalisation has enabled local businesses to become more global. A local business no longer relies on the local community, digitalisation now provides businesses with global opportunities, not only to sell their products and services but also to source, manufacture and find staff.

With globalisation the way we negotiate is changing as it is no longer possible to always negotiate face to face due to the geographical challenges, hence e-negotiation has become a major part in business with e-mail being now one of the major means of communication in business.

E-negotiation is different to negotiating face to face and therefore has its own challenges and tactics but it also creates new opportunities for success.

Increased Toughness

People tend to hide behind emails and can be tougher in e-mails than they would be if you met them face to face. Firstly, the physical distance makes people more detached from the other party and it is therefore easier to play tough and make tougher demands. Secondly, if you are tough with the other party you don’t get an instant reply, which you need to deal with right away. You have time to ponder over your response.

Dana Carney from the University of California found that e-mail makes it easier to mislead and lie to the other party due to the distance, as the distance we have from someone makes us care less, we are detached, and the behaviour becomes contentious.

You can work against that by using the law of reciprocity. What I mean by that is that if you add some personal details about you or the other party in the email to make it not only about the issue you are negotiating over, you are creating attachment and a warm climate and show that you care. In return, the other party might feel obliged to do the same. This creates a great foundation for negotiating over email.

Be conscious of how the other party may interpret your emails. Re-read it and check with someone if possible before pressing send.

Less Cooperation

When we communicate we not only communicate verbally we also use our body language and our tone to bring a message across. Albert Mehrabian, a professor at The University of California found in his studies on how we communicate that only 7% of our communication is done verbally, with the words we say. 55% of our communication, on the other hand, is done through non-verbal communication, our body language and 38% is communicated by our tone, the way we say it.

When negotiating over e-mail we only capture 7% of the total cues which leaves the email open to interpretation by the other party. This indicates that it can be much more difficult to interpret the intentions of the other party which invites room for wide interpretation which is not always productive to the negotiation. Contentious issues that are being discussed via e-mail are also easier to abandon and or letting them drag out which can be disastrous. Imagine you are negotiating over extra charges that have come up with a client and the client is dragging the negotiations out. This can become costly not only in a monetary sense but also to the relationship. It can destroy a relationship and future business opportunities.

In order to overcome such situations, you need to be collaborative in your email. Ask them what is important to them, show some interest and try and acknowledge their point of view which does not mean that you agree. You need to show some empathy showing your understanding of their situation.

Lack of Focus and Commitment

When both parties meet at the negotiation table they have made the commitment to come together and negotiate to try to come to a deal. For the time they meet they are focused on the negotiation on hand. That focus, however, can get lost when negotiating over e-mail as people multitask and get interrupted, meaning it can deliver mediocre results.

The way to overcome this is to keep the other party engaged and not to leave too much time between emails. Try to be focused when you prepare your e-mail and even re-cap previous e-mail exchange that you had and summarize the points.

While communicating via e-mail defies geographical boundaries and can save time, the absence of body language and tone makes it harder to interpret the message and can change the course of a negotiation if there is no awareness of the pitfalls when negotiating via e-mail. It also requires more effort to develop trust and to keep the other party engaged to arrive at a good outcome.