I wrote a column in 2011 entitled “In Person Talks Often Best Option” for The Arizona Republic. Given the timeliness of this subject as many CFOs and others contemplate the money saved with employees Zooming from home and staying away from airports, I thought I would update that column. After all, we’ve been forced to adapt to Zoom and increasingly have this strategic choice available to us again.
Ironically, I am writing this on a plane on my way to a negotiation!
So, almost 11 years ago I woke up at 3:45 a.m. to catch an early flight for a breakfast meeting to explore a potential business relationship. Since only four individuals were involved, you might ask why not just save time and money and do a Zoom call?
Because even the most sophisticated technology cannot completely displace the in-person negotiation. That’s why we should consider the following in determining whether and when to actually meet.
1. Impact on the Relationship
The more your optimal negotiation result includes a relationship with your counterpart, the more likely you should meet in-person, especially early on.
Several relationship-oriented advantages exist to in person meetings, including:
- it’s easier to build rapport and trust (we tend to gloss over this in online meetings);
- more effective brainstorming and exploring and finding common interests;
- it’s easier to discern and evaluate body language and facial expressions and pick up on behavioral cues;
- it’s less likely to result in miscommunications and misinterpretations;
- less lying; and
- it’s harder to say “no” in person.
For most, it’s also harder to establish a strong relationship over the computer or phone than in person.
In contrast, I bought a new Hyundai Palisade a few months ago and did it all online, by email and over the phone. The only time I saw the sales guy was when I picked up the truck. There, I didn’t really care much about the relationship (although the salesperson did as he constantly tried to get me to come into the dealership).
2. Evaluate When to Meet
It’s often helpful to meet face-to-face early and late in the negotiation – and in between online, e-mail and other forms of communication work fine. Why?
Parties often meet in person early to develop rapport, creatively explore interests and options, bargain over information (the First Golden Rule of Negotiation is Information is Power-So Get It!), and basically size each other up. First impressions carry disproportionate weight on people, so you want to get them right.
Parties also often meet in person to close the deal and make the last moves, largely because later meetings often carry expectations that everyone is coming ready to move and get the deal done. Why else spend the time to actually meet, right?
3. Consider Tradition and Culture
It’s traditional in some negotiations and cultures to follow a fairly defined script in terms of when and where and how to meet and communicate. Pay attention to these, as they are likely based on years of practice and have engendered deep-set expectations. To divert from them, which may be helpful, carries risk.
Also find out the reasons underlying those traditions. This will help you understand your counterpart and avoid problems later on.
4. Effect on Efficiency and Cost Effectiveness
Efficiency and cost effectiveness often play the largest role in whether we meet in person. That’s perhaps the biggest advantage to online meetings, e-mail, and texting. But sometimes it’s actually more efficient to meet in person, especially if multiple parties are involved.
You may be more likely to reach impasse and not even get a deal in an online meeting – and that can be very costly and inefficient.
Latz’s Lesson: Online meetings seem so efficient and cost effective – but the value of the relationship, the likelihood of building rapport or getting a “yes,” and tradition and culture may weigh you to get back on that plane and fly to that crucial negotiation in person.
* 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 can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Marty@LatzNegotiation.com.