Image showing a professional interaction using the platform zoom. Negotiations
Zoom is now at the centre of not only the video-conferencing but is a vital platform for local and global negotiating. Image Credit: Unsplash: Visuals.

The Coronavirus pandemic has emphasised teleconferencing’s central role in negotiations across all sectors. While they have recently become essential, virtual negotiations have long been utilised. However, virtual negotiations have never been as widely used or indeed accessible as they are today.

As digital skills have been enhanced across the developed world, there are still many challenges to conducting successful negotiations using virtual platforms and tools. A particular knowledge gap is emerging in the area of digital protocol, and skilled communication in digital settings. This can range from minor faux pas to more consequential blunders in important virtual organisation contexts.

However, more importantly, subtle and less overt mistakes can fundamentally undermine a successful negotiation. There are basic differences between in-person and virtual interaction. Understanding which is important beyond the obvious physical deviations, is central to effectively adapting to the virtual context. Effectively harnessing skilled interpersonal communication is key to successful virtual negotiations and professional interactions.

Fusing skilled interpersonal communication skills with digital knowhow is essential to achieving such outcomes. This requires several key steps. Adopting a step-by-step approach is useful to cognitively preparing for professional interaction in the virtual context.

Image showing a plan being formulated and drawn-up. Negotiations
The strategy development process is central to any negotiation wherever the venue. Image Credit: Unsplash: Mark Fletcher-Brown.

1. Develop Strategy 

Planning is essential to achieving a successful negotiated outcome. Fundamental to this planning, is establishing your position in a negotiation. At a basic level, this is your bottom line, understanding what such a minimum satisfactory outcome would look like. Identifying relative strengths and weaknesses, as well as areas of authority and threat will prepare to protect a negotiator’s interest. This strategic analysis enables a negotiator to then frame arguments and produce evidence to support their position. This is key to protecting and advancing a negotiator’s interest.

With the establishment of negotiator positions, comes the ability to then assess potential areas of conflict within the planned negotiation. Identifying these conflicts in the planning stage strengthens the negotiator’s position, as during the course of the opposing side, you cannot leverage surprise. Moreover, it also helps to ensure negotiation is fluid, increasing the chances of achieving a negotiated settlement.

Equally, it is also key at this stage to identify areas of potential agreement. This will ultimately save time, promote a mood of compromise and establish respect within the negotiation. This in turn supports a successful outcome for a negotiator, by leveraging the result of patience and goodwill. This fundamentally alters the opposing negotiator’s perception of their opponents and the chances of a successful interaction. 

Image showing a high spec home working set up.
Ensuring that all avoidable digital impairments are prevented is key to maintaining focus on the actual negotiation itself. Image Credit: Unsplash: Domenico Loia.

2. Neutralising Digital Threats 

It is essential not only to ensure that you have cognitively prepared for the negotiation, but it is also important to consider digital threats to a successful interaction. The vast majority of digital blunders in telecommunications are avoidable. Ensuring your microphone is on, even when you are not directly involved in the interaction is an elementary yet incredibly useful step to avoiding any ‘you’re on mute’ moments.

Such interruptions can damage the flow of the negotiation. Further, if there are immovable environmental barriers to constantly having your microphone, follow the flow of the conversation and ensure you are turned on before you even gesture to interject. It is also useful to consider removing impediments to visual clarity in digital interaction.

Ensuring that the room you are in is suitably bright, the background you have is professional, weather superimposed or a real physical feature and the temperature of the room is cool to avoid facial redness and perspiration is fundamental. Moreover, avoiding technology-related video distortions such as freezing and blurring is key to facilitating a successful interaction.

This can be achieved by using WIFI strength level gauges that are available on most video conferencing tools including Zoom. It is vital to do this well in advance of the scheduled negotiation to eliminate any connectivity issues.

Audio issues are a particular impairment for a digital negotiation as they undermine basic communication within a negotiation. Ensuring any issues are avoided by using audio quality settings within most video conferencing tools such as Zoom in advance of the negotiation is consequently important. The vast majority of digital technology issues can be prevented, with the use of simple checks in advance of interactions helping to facilitate effective digital interaction.

Image showing video-conferencing participants engaging.
Understanding and implementing the process of set-induction is key to successfully initiating and steering the course of a negotiation. Image Credit: Unsplash: Visuals.

3. Opening the Negotiation

In any negotiation, it is extremely important to initiate the negotiation properly. In almost all cases, there will be an exchange of pleasantries or other business discussed that forward the negotiation. As such, it is beneficial for one of the negotiation parties to take the initiative and formally begin negotiations. This is best achieved through the use of set induction techniques.

Set induction is in essence any verbal utterance, gesture or audio-visual aid that introduces a topic. This acts as a frame for all that follows, as such effectively deploying set induction techniques can help a negotiating party dictate the structure and flow of the negotiation.

It is also useful to deploy these techniques in a digital context because it offers a clear structure to interaction that is more efficient, cutting down on disjointed cross-talking and general uncertainty. The opening of negotiation should focus on rapport and trust-building, which will lend to a positive and fluid negotiation.

This is particularly important in a digital contact, because this positive and clearly defined opening can bridge the divide between the negating party and absent physical contact and proximity.  

Image showing clear body language in a professional context.
Maintaining effective communication is particularly important when there is natural distant between negotiation parities. Image Credit: Unsplash: Headway.

4. Maintain Professional Communication

Throughout the negotiation, best endeavours must be made to maintain effective communication. This is supported by limiting technological issues, thus avoiding unnecessary impediments to clear communication. There are distinct issues that video conferencing possesses, such as instances of miscommunication, because of the unique social detachment digital platforms can experience.

At a very basic level, not being in the same room as another negotiation party impedes certain core tenets of interpersonal connection. It is therefore essential that a negotiator effectively adapts to a simulated shared room, while interacting with others virtually. The camera angle, device position and resulting position the negotiator addresses it from are potentially consequential. This angle should be natural and square to the negotiator’s face. 

There are two central considerations: eye contact and posture. Eye contact and the signals that humans send with their eyes are a cornerstone of interpersonal communication. In a negotiation, it is essential that good eye contact and facial gesticulation isn’t neglected in a virtual context. As such, it is useful for a negotiator to use camera check tools to practise on the device to achieve a natural and effective camera presence.

Appearing distracted and not focusing on one position can send confused and potentially damaging non-verbal signals to the opposing negotiation party. It is also useful for a negotiator to be aware of their facial expressions. This could involve practising being affirmative – to signal agreement, muted disapproving to signal disagreement and most importantly, a positive and engaged resting pose. 

To consolidate this, a negotiator must consider their posture during a virtual negotiation. Adopting a relaxed, assured and professional posture is important to send the appropriate message to the opposing negotiating party. The negotiator should have their shoulders back with the view of the camera acting as a frame which they will adapt their posture accordingly.

Further, the negotiator should have their hands out of view when they are not illustrating a point, or at an appropriate distance from the camera. This will avoid distracting screen dominating hand gestures and potential disconcerting fidgeting. It is also important, particularly in an affirmative context, for a negotiator to use their body to respond to dialogue by leaning in to show both engagement and interest. The opposing negotiation party will respond positively to this clear signal. 

Image showing two individuals in a professional context to denote the close of a negotiation.
Strong communication is particularly key in the closing stages of negotiation and should be approached logically. Image Credit: Unsplash: Cytonn Photography.

5. Close the Negotiation

When negotiation is coming to a conclusion, or a one party wants to conclude a negotiation, there are several key considerations. It is important as a negotiator that you give signals in language and non-verbal that you wish for proceedings to be brought to an end.

Equally, it is important to look for these signals as the opposing side. In a virtual context, this is even more important. As not being physically present in the same location as the opposing party brings a natural disconnect, virtual settings can potentially lead to confusion within and between parties.

Furthermore, all parties must agree on the outcomes of the negotiation and be clear about these outcomes. In a virtual context, this is particularly relevant as there is more chance of miscommunication. Therefore, it is useful to complement or follow-up such a conclusion with other forms of digital communication for clarification of finer details.

This could take the form of an email, summarising the main points of negotiation and agreement, to be sent within 24 hours. Fundamentally, in a virtual negotiation – like any other form of negotiation – strong communication is key, particularly in the closing stages.

Clarity and honesty are central. Concessions should be made from a place of strength and small in nature. Negotiation should not be concluded if there is an unnecessary imbalance in the negotiated outcome – this is potentially damaging. Efforts should be made to frame any settlement as mutually advantageous.

When an agreed settlement is reached, celebrating it is still important, even when it may be impossible for both parties to be in the same physical location, creative means of celebration should be considered for both parties. This could take the form of an informal breakout or celebratory virtual meeting.

Challenges of Virtual Negotiations: Navigating the Remote Landscape

While Zoom and other video conferencing platforms have revolutionized business communication, they introduce unique challenges when it comes to negotiation. Navigating these hurdles is crucial for achieving successful outcomes in the virtual realm. Let’s dive into the key challenges you need to be aware of:

1. Reduced Ability to Read Body Language and Cues:

  • Nonverbal communication plays a significant role in negotiations, conveying emotions, trustworthiness, and intent. In virtual settings, limited visibility of body language and facial expressions can lead to misinterpretations.
  • Solution: Pay close attention to subtle cues like vocal tone, pauses, and eye contact. Utilize clear and concise verbal communication to avoid ambiguity. Consider using additional video angles or tools like emojis to enhance nonverbals.

2. Increased Risk of Distractions and Multitasking:

  • Remote environments can be filled with distractions, from emails to household chores. Multitasking during negotiations can hinder focus and attentiveness, impacting your ability to negotiate effectively.
  • Solution: Choose a quiet, distraction-free environment for the negotiation. Communicate your expectations regarding focus and attentiveness to all participants. Utilize features like “Do Not Disturb” mode or background noise cancellation on your platform.

3. Technical Difficulties with Video and Audio:

  • Glitches, frozen screens, and poor audio quality can disrupt the flow of the negotiation, causing frustration and miscommunication. Implementing a jitter buffer in your video conferencing setup can help smooth out audio delays and ensure clearer communication.
  • Solution: Test your technology beforehand and ensure a stable internet connection. Have a backup plan in place, like switching to audio-only if video fails. Communicate openly about any technical issues and be prepared to reschedule if necessary.

4. Harder to Build Rapport and Trust:

  • Establishing trust and rapport is essential for successful negotiations. The virtual environment can make it more challenging to connect on a personal level and build a sense of camaraderie.
  • Solution: Initiate small talk and icebreakers to warm up the conversation. Actively listen and acknowledge the other party’s points. Utilize shared visual aids and interactive tools to foster engagement. Emphasize common interests and goals to build trust and collaboration.

Mastering the Art of Words: Verbal Communication Strategies for Zoom Negotiations

The success of your Zoom negotiation hinges not just on the content, but also on how you deliver it. Mastering your verbal communication skills is crucial to navigating the limitations of a virtual environment and ensuring your message resonates effectively. Here are some key strategies to enhance your verbal prowess:

1. Speak Slowly and Clearly:

  • In online settings, background noise and potential audio issues can make it harder to understand fast speech. Pace yourself, enunciate clearly, and avoid mumbling. This ensures your words are delivered with clarity and impact.

2. Ask Questions to Engage Participants:

  • Don’t fall into the trap of a monotonous monologue. Pose open-ended questions to actively engage the other party, encourage participation, and gain valuable insights into their perspective. This fosters a collaborative atmosphere and builds trust.

3. Paraphrase to Check Understanding:

  • Misinterpretations are more likely in virtual settings with limited nonverbal cues. Regularly paraphrase key points and ask for confirmation to ensure understanding and avoid unnecessary back-and-forth. This demonstrates attentiveness and prevents misunderstandings that could derail the negotiation.

4. Be Positive and Appreciative in Tone:

  • Even when presenting opposing viewpoints, maintain a positive and respectful tone. Use phrases like “I appreciate your perspective” or “That’s an interesting point” to acknowledge the other party’s input and foster a constructive dialogue. Avoid accusatory language or negativity, which can escalate tensions and hinder progress.


Q: What if I don’t have a quiet room available?

A: Consider using noise-canceling headphones or booking a quiet space in a library or co-working space. Even stepping outside to a secluded area can work in a pinch.

Q: What should I do if my internet connection is unstable?

A: Connect to a wired internet connection if possible, and close any unnecessary programs that might be consuming bandwidth. Consider having a backup communication plan, like switching to phone if video fails entirely.

Q: Are there any cultural considerations for setting up my negotiation space?

A: Research cultural norms related to professional settings and adapt your background, attire, and overall presentation accordingly to avoid misunderstandings.

Q: How can I make my virtual background more professional?

A: Choose a neutral, uncluttered background that reflects your industry or company branding. Avoid busy patterns or overly personal items. Consider using virtual background tools offered by your video conferencing platform.

Q: What are some additional tips for staying comfortable during a Zoom negotiation?

A: Take breaks to stretch and move around periodically, and avoid straining your eyes by adjusting screen brightness and taking breaks to look away. Remember to breathe deeply and maintain a relaxed posture.

Summary: 5 Steps to Successful Negotiations

Virtual negotiations are more relevant than ever. Innovation has seen virtual platforms like Zoom become technically advanced and increasingly vital in recent years. Bridging the physical divide between two or more teleconferencing parties, such platforms are incredibly useful for business. This coupled with social conditions, including the COVID-19 pandemic has affirmed this relevance. This has been particularly prominent for a range of different negotiations. That said, there are still many challenges to conducting successful negotiations using virtual platforms.

Utilising this step-by-step process will help facilitate a successful digital negotiation, by affirming skilled communication in a virtual context. Moreover, as laid out, avoiding basic digital blunders in a strategic manner is also key for negotiators. Fundamentally, fusing skilled interpersonal communication skills with digital knowhow is essential to achieving successful negotiations in a virtual context. Pursuing a step-by-step approach is useful to cognitively and practically prepare for effective negotiation outcomes in the virtual setting.     

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