This past semester, my students participated in an email negotiation with students from Hastings & Boalt law schools which turned out to be quite interesting for them and for me reading their journals afterwards. It is always lovely to write an article–it’s even nicer to see that what you write might actually be happening in reality as well! In a chapter entitled You’ve Got Agreement: Negoti@ting via Email in the recently published book Rethinking Negotiation Teaching, Noam Ebner and others (including me) review some of the advantages and disadvantages to email negotiation, many of which were experienced by my students.
The difference in the type of media meant that students really needed to engage in conscious “shmoozing” to build rapport. We discovered that one Hastings student was actually a Marquette alum–building instant rapport–while other overly brusque email exchanges did not work as well. Tone in email matters. Students also appreciated the asynchronous part of email negotiations. They could think, do some research, and then email back to their counterparts. They also noted when they got in a good email rhythm with the other negotiator. At the same time, email also made it easier to lose touch and for the negotiation to take longer than it would have otherwise.
We also saw some other effects from the email negotiation–diminished information exchange & diminished trust–that students needed to overcome. But, having talked about this in advance, students knew that they would need to work at this. All of which goes to the point that this was a very worthwhile exercise and practice.
As the New York Times wrote about last month in a very good article, even real estate deals are being done over email. Professor Kathleen McGinn notes another important advantage of emails:
The record that e-mail creates can also make brokers more accountable. Dr. McGinn said that when an agent relays a request from a client, there’s a risk that the message might be distorted along the way. But chances for distortion disappear if every request sent by e-mail is copied to every other party involved in the deal.
Dr. McGinn said that e-mail messages should be taken seriously and not written on the fly. “They should be drafted like formal letters and not like an e-mail to your friend when you want to know if they’re ready for dinner,” she said.
As to this last point, I was delighted to read from my students that correct grammar and punctuation still matter to this generation as well! As one of them pointed out, you have less respect for a negotiator that does not even proofread what they are sending.