How Online Communication is Transforming Negotiations

In face-to-face negotiations, powerful players have many ways to exert dominance. Powerful individuals dress in smart clothes that signal wealth and use props – such as BlackBerrys, personal phones, laptops, i-pads, etc. – to show their “technical savvy, busyness, and high valuation by the organization” [David Owens, Margaret Neale, & Robert Sutton, Technologies of Status Negotiation: Status Dynamics in Email Discussion Groups (2000)].

Powerful players attract attention by sitting at the focal point of a room, show dominance by interrupting other individuals, and gain control of the group’s conversation through body language and gestures. In face-to-face negotiations, the more powerful party has a stack full of cards that can be played in order to exert power and show dominance; however, in online negotiations many of these cards disappear.

Of course, there are many disadvantages to faceless communication. Without non-verbal cues from a “human” across the negotiation table, it is much more difficult to develop interpersonal connections and build trust. Without the non-verbal cues it is much more difficult to detect deception and bluffing; hence, an individual may feel less guilty and about exploiting or hurting a “faceless” individual. Id. An individual is more likely to exploit or fear exploitation by the other party in the absence of a relationship of trust with some accountability.

During negotiations, the use of online communication can in many ways level the playing field. In e-negotiations, both parties can come as almost equals to the “virtual negotiation table.”

1. No first impressions. First impressions are usually based on appearance and physical-likeness. Employers admit that the weight and physical attraction of an interview applicant is a factor in whether or not an individual receives the job offer. In the negotiation setting, this often means that we are more likely to have positive first impressions of another party if they dress like us, look like us, and talk like us. As a result, parties are often at a disadvantage when negotiating with individuals from different ethnicities, cultures, or countries. In faceless e-negotiations, parties do not have the luxury of judging the other party based on body language and physical appearance; instead, parties must create new ways to learn about each other. Consequently, in order to humanize the other party, parties often disclose information and exchange stories to learn about each other. Humour can also be used to help create a face in the otherwise face-less e-negotiation. 2. No interruptions…

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by Mikita Weaver

Mikita is the Editor-in-Chief of ADR Times. As an associate at Northrup Schlueter LLC, she focuses predominantly on litigation and arbitration in the field of construction insurance defense. She received her Juris Doctorate at Pepperdine and a Masters in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute. Mikita has been published in the Pepperdine Dispute Resolution Law Journal and worked at the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution in London. As an avid traveler, she continues to explore various dispute resolution issues and how they vary from region to region.