As technology advances so do our options to communicate. Before there were written languages we negotiated verbally around the campfire. Now we can negotiate via Skype, texts, emails or instant messaging. How does using different media to communicate impact negotiations?

Like all things academic, opinions vary. A recent study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior looked at the difference in electronically mediated negotiation (or e-negotiation) compared to face-to-face negotiations.

  • Eighty people were recruited for the study and exposed to the two types of negotiations.
  • The negotiation media and the negotiation sequence barely impacted negotiation outcomes.
  • Face-to-face negotiation was no different than e-negotiation when it came to the final price, the number of installments for the balance and the sum of the advanced, fictional payment used for the study.

An older study looked into the difference between face to face and email negotiation (with a focus on emotions) and found a mixed bag.

  • Researchers found that when two people exchanged emails they were less likely to reach agreement, less satisfied with the quality of the interaction, reported less rapport and rated future trust in their partner much lower than the face to face negotiation partner.
  • Those negotiating face to face rated their own emotions during the negotiation and those of the other party significantly higher than those negotiating over email. Accuracy in perceiving the emotions of the other party was greater in the email negotiators.
  • Their research found that accuracy in perceiving negative emotions in the other party is a significant predictor of settlement, regardless of negotiation environment, so that was a plus for those using emails.

Face to face negotiation is still the way to go, according to an article in the Houston Chronicle. Neil Kokemuller argues that,

  • Trust is the basis for all relationships and face to face negotiations are a much better format for small talk and building rapport with someone you’re meeting for the first time. You’re better able to form a first impression and assess the other party. You can look each other in the eye when talking to better decide whether the other person is trustworthy.
  • E-mail negotiations have more room for conflict because face to face communications have more interactive communication which allows for immediate feedback and discussion with nonverbal context. Emails can include misinterpretations of feelings and emotions which can be more easily cleared up when talking face to face.
  • You’re more focused when negotiating with someone next to you. Communicating through emails can be disjointed and allow people to at least try to multi-task.
  • There are increased chances of a mutually beneficial resolution. When we take the time and make negotiating a priority by doing it in person, both sides show commitment to making an agreement. Meeting in person conveys a greater sense of partnership and cooperation.

Negotiating face to face is definitely “old school” but ultimately the means and methods of communications are essentially a tool to help reach an objective, the successful resolution of a dispute.

While the theoretical costs and benefits of e-negotiating are interesting it often comes down to practical realities. Are the costs of getting people together justify the possible reward? If a matter can be resolved through emails or phone calls (or the combination of the two) it may be the way to go given the value of the case, the costs of travel and value of participants’ time.