10 Tips for Using Email Properly in Negotiations

15th Apr 2019

Samuel Passow
Samuel Passow

Communication in cyberspace tends to be less inhibited than in face-to-face situations. As a result, parties ignore the possible adverse consequences of negative online interactions because of physical distance, reduced social presence, reduced accountability and a sense of anonymity. That said, research by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe, authors of  “Send: The essential Guide to Emails  for Office and Home” shows that business people tend to spend 25% of their day on the computer, so the challenge now is how to use the medium more effectively when we negotiate. Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Keep your message short. Put your most important statements in the first paragraph, then follow-up with details. Detailed information or data should be sent as a printable but non-editable PDF.


  1. Don’t propose more than three ideas or ask more than three questions in any one email. By keeping the message short, you can focus the respondent on answering your specific request and keeping to your agenda.


  1. The email can serve as an objective record of the information requested, sent and discussed. The time and date stamp can serve as a framework to see when barriers to agreement were imposed and concessions made. It can serve as an extremely useful tool.


  1. In order to build a relationship you need to send positive signals and well as personalize the email. Try and express emotion as you would in person For example: “Hi John, Thanks for your flexibility on this matter…”.


  1. Use the email as an opportunity to establish common interest, such a professional associations, schools, sports, children, where your family comes from. For example: “I saw on your Linked-In bio that you graduated Harvard Business School in 2006. I too am a Harvard Alumnus, Kennedy School; class of ’96. Did you ever hear Michael Porter lecture? His work on competition was one of the main inspirations for my PhD thesis…” Such sentences encourage honesty and build rapport.


  1. To demonstrate your “e-empathy” and active listening skills, use the email to either summarize or reflect any concessions you have made or assurances that have been given. For example: “Jane, I believe we have made great progress…” or “John, this is what I think we have achieved so far…”. The “turn taking” required by email can facilitate communication by preventing one party from interrupting the other, giving both parties the chance to express their views fully before relinquishing the floor.


  1. Ask for a specific action. Tell the recipient what you need in order to complete the transaction. Show your willingness to engage in the process. For example: “I would be grateful if you could please send me your latest technical specs on the BK-5a model so I can run it past our engineers here.”


  1. When negotiating by email, don’t send quick messages. Write an email and save it as a draft. Take you time to review your message and read your message out loud at least once before sending it. Remember that efficiency is no substitute for politeness, especially when dealing with people from different cultures and age differences.  


  1. When rudeness is encountered, or you are angry, don’t respond immediately and don’t respond in kind. Instead, “go to the balcony” (take a short break) and then respond with a measured statement. As Roger Fisher once noted, you can disagree without being disagreeable. Remember, that for people who are using English as a second language, it is very common for them to use words with similar meanings rather than precise definition. For example, they may say “you do this now, OK?” which sounds like an order, rather than “could you please do this ASAP” which sounds like a request.  Such misuse of phraseology can often be perceived as rude by the respondent.  Give people some slack and ask them to clarify their statements before you rush to judgment.


  1. Emails offer a face-saving way for parties to apologize for misunderstandings, for conveying incorrect information, or for overtly or inadvertently offending someone. This allows for parties to overcome barriers to agreement, which are raised when trust is lost. While the apology is “on the record” it spares both parties of the awkwardness and embarrassment of a phone conversation or face-to-face meeting.

For further research on this subject from Duke University, click on the following link: https://remotenegotiations.wordpress.com/resources

The Negotiation Lab has developed a new simulation-based training course on Negotiating Through Email. We would very much like to hear about your negotiation experiences over the Internet to build on our body of knowledge. For more information, please contact Samuel Passow on +441227766714 or via email at samuel.passow@negotiationlab.co.uk