Negotiating online? Do this for better results:



One of the main difficulties facing European business is the fact that we’re dispersed more than in, say, the US.

Yeah, we’re all hubs, but we’re all smallish hubs, and sooner or later we’ll have to negotiate with other people either by chat, Skype or phone. The question is: how do you get over the limitations of the virtual contact?  How do you negotiate better with people in this virtual world.

Well: you mimic their speech or writing patterns as early as possible, research shows: “negotiators who actively mimicked their counterpart’s language in the first 10 min of the negotiation obtained higher gain compared to those mimicking during the last 10 min”. 

The ‘mimicry’ was explained to the participants like this:

  • For example, when the other person uses emoticons in their message like :) or ;) , you should too.
  • If he/she uses certain jargon, metaphors, grammar, specific words, or abbreviations such as “y’know” (you know), you should do the same.
  • Do not direct too much of your attention to the linguistic and verbal mimicking so you don’t lose focus on the outcome of the negotiation. Thus, find a happy medium of consistent mimicking that does not disrupt your focus.

Some of them were told to start mimicking in the first ten minutes, the other were told to wait until the end. These are the results, which clearly show big wins for people who start building a rapport early on:

The conclusion of the authors: “Our results suggest that – even when cloaked behind the anonymity of a computer screen – strategically mimicking a counterpart’s language early in a negotiation can be a powerful way to facilitate the negotiation process.”

[Bakadesuyo, Insead][photo: somegeekintn, Flickr]

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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