How to level the playing field when conducting negotiations via phone

Attempting to conduct a negotiation over the phone is never an ideal scenario. Whenever I’m negotiating face-to-face with someone, I’ve got more control of the situation – I’ve usually got a team with me and can physically see the other side of the negotiation to gauge their responses and reactions to my suggestions. When I’m conducting a negotiation over the phone, I lose some of that control.

Whenever I’m conducting a face-to-face negotiation, I usually spend some time thinking about what I’d like to achieve as an outcome, then work backwards to figure out how to get there. When someone calls me out of the blue and starts a negotiation, I haven’t always had that time to prepare; consequently, I’m placed at a disadvantage, with the other side ‘leading’ the negotiation.

To try and negate this advantage, I ask the other side to outline exactly what they want to talk about. This usually takes a few minutes which buys me time to listen and gather my thoughts. I try to clarify any points I’m not certain about, but other than that simply keep quiet and listen.

Once they’ve completed setting out their intended agenda for the call, I usually suggest that now isn’t really the best time to talk about this (it usually isn’t!). Either I’m in the middle of working on something else, or I’ve got something more urgent to attend to, so I simply suggest that I’ll call back when I get the time. Once I’ve got them off the line, I now have an agenda for their call and have regained control of the conversation, buying myself time to plan.

People often forget just how much work is involved in negotiation. There are usually multiple issues to discuss, causing negotiations to stretch over lengthy periods of time. This can cause us to forget issues about which we need to negotiate – an issue which I usually negate with copious note taking during face-to-face negotiations.

By ensuring that I’m the one initiating the call, I’m doing what I can to maintain control of the negotiation. By keeping control and being more prepared than the other side, I can often negate the disadvantage of negotiating over the phone.

Ultimately, when it comes to negotiation, the phone is not a tool I rely on. Despite this, with the dominance of mobile phones and instant communications, they’re not likely to disappear. Because of this, I’ve learnt to adapt my negotiating style and try to avoid potential pitfalls of negotiating over the phone.

It’s not possible to reverse the trend of negotiating over the phone – there are just too many of them and it’s too convenient for many. Keep the tips above in mind, however, and your next negotiation can turn out better than you expect!

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