How to negotiate when we can’t meet face to face by Keld Jensen

For more negotiation resources from Keld Jensen, click the links below

Online master class training in negotiation & SMARTnership

Negotiate your way through the COVID-19 crisis

101 excuses that will block your success

Studies show us that negotiators who meet face to face create better agreements that those who negotiate online. Negotiations are more successful when we meet up physically. The personal contact through lunch, a handshake or eye contact stimulates oxytocin (hormone for bonding) which in return creates a positive relationship between people. A positive relation generates trust, and trust is essential for a successful collaboration. 

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, negotiating in person is no longer a safe option. We can’t meet face to face, we can’t shake hands or have eye contact because we are not in the same room, making it hard to utilize the tools to improve personal relations and improve trust. 

In fact, tone of voice and body language accounts for 93% of the reason you will trust someone.

On top of that, a study conducted by IACCM (International Association of Contract and Commercial Management) and Keld Jensen shows 70% of all negotiations prior to the coronavirus were conducted through emails. 

However, online negotiation can work, following a few guidelines:

1. Focus on collaboration

We tend to see the best and worst in people when we are in a crisis. I have witnessed the lack of toilet paper due to hoarding at the local grocery store, but I have also noticed people and companies reaching out to help others and communities. When we get stressed, we often gravitate towards fight or flight behavior and risk doing that during our online negotiations as well. We should try to resist that instinct and look for collaboration instead. Negotiation experts confirm; Negotiators who take a collaborative approach to their negotiations, outperform those with a zero-sum mindset. 

Focus on expanding the pie and create NegoEconomics (Negotiation economics) by asking your counterpart about the cost and value behind their demands. Share your own cost and values. Both parties will eventually create more value for the mutual good. Even now, we see politicians from opposite parties collaborating. We may be at the beginning of a new era where we start negotiating in SMARTnership. 

2. Don’t make this the new normal

After the coronavirus (and there will be an after) and social-distancing restrictions are lifted, people will once again meet face to face. However, the experienced ease and cost savings by conducting meetings online could tempt us to continue to negotiate online. That would be a mistake!

If you start a new relationship online right now, consider meeting face to face when it’s possible to get to know each other. Utilizing the benefit of online negotiation should not make you forget the benefits of meeting face to face. 

3. Consider the importance of your deal

Negotiators should think carefully before launching a major online negotiation. Consider whether it would be wise to postpone the negotiation until post corona. I have clients who have decided not to continue negotiations with a counterpart before they are able to conduct face to face meetings. You might want to postpone complex talks. You can certainly conduct smaller deals online and you should, for the purpose of keeping the economy afloat. Remember we need to help each other, more now than ever. 

4. Trust your counterpart

Because we can’t meet face to face in online negotiations, we lack the nonverbal clues that create trust. Emails can easily be misunderstood (emojis can help a bit). Misunderstandings and conflict are easier to create. Give your counterpart the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume or guess their feelings or emotions, and don’t immediately be offended if an email seems rude or short. Many people are under some form of stress at the moment. 

5. Choose your technology

There are a number of communication tools to aid your online negotiation. In the initial phase, consider using a video conference platform. This will help you use body language, generate eye contact and establish a stronger relationship. The next step can be the use of emails to exchange hardcore facts and data. If you experience complications or conflicts pick up the phone to solve them. Avoid emails to resolve disagreements. 


Even though we believe we have contradicting interests; we are all in this together. Be ethical, be kind, and be safe. Think of a negotiation as a collaborative process with the purpose of generating progress and success for all. 

For more negotiation resources from Keld Jensen, click the links below

Online master class training in negotiation & SMARTnership

Negotiate your way through the COVID-19 crisis

101 excuses that will block your success


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