Technology in negotiations

It’s rude to text and look at your phone in the middle of a negotiation, right?  Apparently this aspect of negotiation etiquette is being eroded as people recognize that the benefits of carrying on parallel conversations may outweigh the costs of perceived bad manners.  Imagine the situation: you have just been made an offer.  Historically, you might have asked to leave the room and go and discuss with you colleagues.  Now you can text colleagues in private without leaving the room: a private conversation in public.

If this behaviour becomes more widespread and accepted, it could change the nature of some negotiations.  Mediations for example often start with a statement of issues and positions by two parties and then rapidly move to shuttle diplomacy.  Most mediators know that if you can keep that initial exploration of the issues going in a reasoned and civil fashion for longer, the greater the chances of finding mutually acceptable solutions quicker.  Having parallel conversations going on via text might encourage longer initial meetings.

So far I have only heard of this happening in the Asia and the Far East.  I haven’t seen much evidence of it in Europe yet.

What do you think?

This entry was posted on Monday, May 9th, 2011 at 12:05 pm and is filed under Uncategorized . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Technology in negotiations”

  1. JOHN DUNCAN Says:

    The type of behaviour you describe is now very widespread in multilateral diplomacy and in meetings where there there are a number of representatives. In smaller face to face meetings then you are right it would defeat the object of the “personal meeting” if people were constantly texting. But elsewhere its common indeed a phot I took of my delegation at a recent New York meeting showed them all sitting behind me with there laptops open. Some were taking notes but others were reporting back, gathering information etc. How times change!

  2. Dan Predovich Says:

    Hi John, this is in response to your post and Mr. Duncan’s observation. This kind of behavior is increasing everywhere. It seems expected in the technology space, one of three we serve. Common as it may be, this behaviour is simply rude and will have a negative impact, especially at the “stimulate conversation” phase. Personally, I try to maintain some control by using one of our offices or renting something. I now send out a “rules-of-the-road” document, done in color with lots of artwork, to all sides before scheduled meetings. The first rules are (1) Ultimate decisionmaker must be present, (2) All electronica is banned from meetings; if you have a presentation with overheads, bring the datafile on a USB Stick. We start calling once weekly then every other day to emphasise the rules and confirm plans. Naturally, everyone shows up with cell device and laptop. Our receptionist is very good a pulling out two vary large, felt-lined, lockable, steel boxes. Amid complaints, she collects phones and computers, attaches a removable sticker with names, and pushes all that into the conference room for me to lock with some ceremony. I offer directions to the restroom and point to a bank of old style telephones just on the other side of the glass walled conference room. The placement of those phones was not by chance. I offer my card and collect cards, laying them out in a kind of map of the conference table. We have generally had good results with this approach. My priceless story – One person we’ll call “Wire-Man” was attending negotiation sessions with a Dictaphone and little mic hidden poorly under his lapel. Furious but needing to keep things moving, I obtained everyone’s permission and had someone break out our system designed for room recording. While that was being done, Wire-Man and I had a frank exchange of views in the hallway. Everyone got a tape and transcription. Wire-Man shows up for the next meeting with nothing showing. Half way into a presentation very thoughtfully done by another party, there is this low continuous “beeping.” Thinking the sound was from our overhead or attached computer, I start to call our general helper/IT Guy. My Admin, who was taking general notes, motions to her right. Moving around the table I hear Wire-Man “beeping.” Another interruption. This time I have murder in my eyes. I want Wire-Man’s equipment. Looking like a parolee handing in a sample he knows will show drug use, Wire-Man says he has to use a restroom to give me his equipment. I get the receptionist ready to recover whatever Wire-Man turns in, “and please give me one of those clear plastic bags we use for lunches.” I hand over the bag to Wire-Man, tell him to drop it off with the receptionist, “and just keep going. Your day is done here.” But, but but… “we will ship it to you.” The guy was not only irritating, but had subverted my entire process, which includes building some level of trust. We continued recording each of these meetings, even with Wire-Man replaced by the more senior person who should have been in our sessions from the start. I came to believe recording conversations was a real problem, and all seemed more relaxed and focused when the recorder was gone. As for Wire-Man, our senior Admin came up with a perfect solution. We billed his superior for transcription time at MY rate x(n) attendees along with a nice letter explaining our process and how it had been subverted to the detriment of all. We now use a complete checklist of expected behavior, and have these signed at a “pre-meeting” session. We also now provide a small workroom for meeting attendees use during breaks or for staff people to work in support of the attendee.

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