How to Build Rapport through Virtual Negotiations

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It’s far easier to build trust and rapport in person. You can shake someone’s hand and assess their body language. You can create a good first impression. Negotiators are struggling to build rapport when meeting people for the first time virtually. It’s hard to build that same trust and rapport that you would in person. But the Coronavirus pandemic changed the negotiation game.

You have to adapt and learn how to negotiate remotely—which means communicating effectively through virtual means. How do you build rapport in a virtual world? How does it change the way you negotiate? Giuseppe Conti—negotiation professor with 25+ years of experience working around the world—shared how to master virtual negotiation in a recent episode of Negotiations Ninja.

Find a point of connection

Giuseppe emphasizes that you need to take time to connect with your counterpart in a virtual negotiation. You don’t have to go straight to business. You can share something personal or convey a positive emotion. Because of mirror neurons, your positive emotion will likely be contagious. You can also use plural pronouns such as “us” and “we” to establish trust. Those are a couple of small techniques you can use to establish rapport with the other person.

Trust is an interesting topic. For face-to-face negotiation, trust-building is an emotional matter. But Giuseppe points out that for virtual communication, trust-building is a cognitive matter. You’re building trust with your behavior. The more consistent your behavior is, the higher the level of trust. Strive to be consistent.

Watch your “tone” in email communication

Some of the information we glean from communication comes from the inflection of someone’s voice. The same words paired with different inflections can have totally different meanings. Imagine someone saying “What are you doing here?” in a happy tone of voice. They’re likely excited to see you. But “What are you doing here?” said angrily has a completely different connotation.

That’s why information can be so easily lost in email communication. Your inflection and tone of voice cannot be properly gauged, increasing the tendency that your words will be interpreted negatively or incorrectly. Giuseppe points out that’s why it’s important to craft your words carefully.

How can summarizing build rapport

Another tool that is important for building rapport—that tends to be neglected—is summarizing. Giuseppe recommends that you summarize the deal that’s being crafted over email along the way to have a record of what is being discussed.

You can ask additional questions, use the summary to highlight that you have other alternatives, or change your position. If you were too harsh in previous emails, you can take on a more collaborative tone. That way, you can make sure you’re on the same page and not misinterpreting the information being passed back and forth.

A summary can also have a bonus effect—when you’re the one that summarizes, “It gives you the opportunity to frame the information in the way which is more powerful for you.”

Why you MUST understand the context of the negotiation

Giuseppe points out that “Understanding your context will enable you to choose the right tool.” Look at whether the context is neutral, cooperative, or competitive. Research indicates that when we are in a neutral context, there is value in video conferencing. If it’s collaborative, there are only mild value benefits from video communication. When it’s a competitive negotiation, there are actually negative benefits from using a face-to-face tool.

If the negotiation is complex, important, or a multiparty negotiation, then video conferencing may be the best mode of communication. You may want to choose a tool like email for a competitive negotiation. If you have a power, status, or even confidence disadvantage email can help you level the playing field. If you are looking to build rapport and trust, video communication may be the best way to start the relationship.

To hear the full discussion about building rapport through virtual negotiation in the COVID-19 world, listen to episode 159 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast!