I couldn’t believe it. Years ago, I was practicing law at a large firm and I used to regularly get research assignments – by email – from the partner whose office was right next to mine. He couldn’t even deign to walk a few feet to give me the assignment in person. He thought email was more efficient.
But was it the most effective? No.
What should the partner have done, from a negotiation perspective (and this was an internal negotiation between two work colleagues)?
I would have recommended a short in person meeting to generally introduce the assignment, followed by more detail via email.
So how and what and where should you negotiate by email? As many of you know, I have previously written about what and where you should negotiate in writing (see my columns When to Put It in Writing and Know How to Proceed When Talks Take a “Write” Turn and Writing and Anchoring Powerful in Negotiations).
Here let’s address the question of how to negotiate via email – the do’s and don’ts of email negotiations. Of course, this applies after you’ve decided, strategically, to write that email (and not to negotiate face-to-face, pick up the phone, start a Zoom video call, etc.).
The Do’s of Email Negotiations
1. Be Strategic and Detail-Oriented
I am often surprised at how many emails in negotiations appear to have been drafted – and sent – on the fly with little consideration of the strategic signals being sent. Don’t.
Instead, carefully consider your strategic message and the language you want to use to communicate it. Just because it is super easy to draft and send does not mean its message will be perceived as less impactful.
Bottom line – strategically craft it, pay attention to detail, and don’t get sloppy. What you email may make or break your negotiation.
2. Manage the Timing
When you send the email will impact your counterpart’s perception of how much you need the deal and your leverage. The more desperate they perceive you to be, the weaker your leverage.
Let’s say you’re a corporate purchasing manager and you get an email from your counterpart with a bid to sell you their contact management software. You speak with your boss and decide to counter. You thus draft an email and send it later that same day.
What will that software vendor think of your need level if they receive a counter that same day? That you’re a bit desperate. Instead, wait a day, or maybe longer, to send that email. Appear interested, but not that much.
3. Support Your Positions with Standards
Don’t just email your counterparts with your positions – what you want. Also share why your position (or interest if you share this) is fair and reasonable. Justify your positions with standards and benchmarks like market value, precedent, experts, etc. (This is my Third Golden Rule – Employ “Fair” Objective Criteria).
It’s very easy in an email to just tell the other side what you want. Take it to the next level.
4. Consider email vs. attached documents
Finally, email is an imperfect way to communicate complex ideas. So if you find yourself drafting a really long email or getting into a ton of detail on a complex issue, put it into Word and attach it.
The Don’ts of Email Negotiations
1. Argue/Be Nasty
A few years ago a lawyer’s negotiation emails flew around the internet as an example of how nasty and mean some can be in negotiations. I believe he was ultimately sanctioned for unprofessionalism.
It’s a lot easier to vent by email than in person. Don’t.
2. Send When Angry
My father-in-law years ago told me about his “24-Hour Rule” when he gets an email that makes him upset. Draft a response, he said, but then park it in your Draft folder and wait at least 24 hours to hit “Send” (if you ever do). This will ensure your email is not just sent in the heat of the moment with language you will later regret.
3. Lie or Play Credibility Games
Research has shown that people lie more in emails than in face-to-face negotiations. Don’t. Not only is it wrong and ineffective from a negotiation perspective, but if the truth comes out later – and it often does – the written documentation is there for all to see.
Not worth it, on many levels.
Latz’s Lesson: Negotiating through email presents unique challenges. Face them with these email negotiation do’s and don’ts.
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Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation, a national negotiation training and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He also has two bestselling books Gain the Edge! and The Real Trump Deal: An eye-opening Look at How He Really Negotiates. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Marty@LatzNegotiation.com.