Home Professionalisms 10 Quick Tips For Better Email Negotiations

10 Quick Tips For Better Email Negotiations


by Cindy Watson, founder of Women on Purpose and author of “The Art of Feminine Negotiation: How to Get What You Want from the Boardroom to the Bedroom

Negotiating by email is an unavoidable fact of life. In today’s world, technological interactions without traditional human connection are on the rise, and there are pros and cons to this mode of negotiation. It’s worth taking a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of email negotiations.

Let’s start with the benefits of this mode of bargaining:

  • Email negotiations can save time, money, and the travel that’s required with face-to-face meetings.
  • Email reduces stress by allowing for delayed response times. With time on your side, you can contemplate and measure your response. The immediate reactions required in face-to-face and telephone negotiations can induce anxiety, making email negotiations a welcome relief.
  • Email’s slower response time can prevent knee-jerk, explosive outbursts or ill-considered quick deals.
  • Email tends to give the illusion of insulation, allowing people to ask questions that would be difficult to pose face-to-face. I’ve listed this as an advantage, although some people consider this a drawback.

Despite these benefits, it’s estimated that email negotiations end in an impasse half the time, and studies suggest less satisfaction with the process. Why is that?

Negotiating by email isn’t the same as face-to-face (or even telephone) negotiations. Ignore this simple fact at your peril. Email’s pitfalls include:

  • The potential for miscommunication. Body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and touch are fundamental aspects of communicating in person, and they’re all missing in email negotiations.
  • Only the words on the screen appear; there’s no context or ability to gauge others’ reactions. This can be a significant handicap (both in understanding the other party and being understood yourself).
  • Email tends to elicit concise exchanges. People are less likely to build rapport. Instead, they get straight to business. This style can often come across as terse, rude, or confrontational.
  • There’s a higher likelihood of misreading someone’s tone. You’ve no doubt been at the giving or receiving end of this conundrum.
  • Some suggest there’s a greater tendency to bluff and outright lie in email communications. The screen offers a buffer that reduces accountability, empathy, and concern about the bargaining counterpart’s reaction.
  • Arguably, there’s less focus on mutual interests and more focus on positional bargaining.
  • It’s easier to say “no” to a computer screen than to someone in person.
  • Email agreements may not last. Parties may be more likely to back away from commitments they’ve made via email.
  • There’s a tendency to prepare less for email negotiations. When not properly prepared, people are more likely to make commitments they later regret and try to back away from.
  • Privacy concerns also raise their ugly heads in email negotiations. Controlling access to emails can be challenging. With blind copies and forwarding, this holds true both during and after discussions. This can inhibit open communication.

So how do you offset the risks posed by email bargaining? How can you find ways to establish connection and trust?

Here are 10 simple strategies to get started:

  1. Try to meet in person first. Meeting with someone before starting email negotiations allows you to observe nonverbal cues and gauge reactions to each other. And, as you do, you’ll build rapport and connection.
  2. Mix it up. Try to schedule phone calls or in-person meetings at some point during protracted email negotiations.
  3. Be human. Personalize the communications and add human emotion. Give the other party a sense of your personality, and try to elicit the same from them. Seek out common ground.
  4. Express your emotions. Don’t be afraid to express empathy, concern, or doubt while still projecting optimism about reaching a mutually satisfactory resolution.
  5. Make digital small talk. Share stories or anecdotes and ask about the other party’s personal circumstances when it’s appropriate. Make the exchanges mimic “real life.”
  6. Enhance your text. Consider supplementing your email communications with other media, such as images or videos.
  7. Make it personal. Use personalized greetings and sign-offs rather than being “all business.”
  8. Ask questions early. Ask questions early and often to avoid ambiguity. This also draws the other party into problem-solving mode.
  9. Don’t overreact. Words in an email may come across as rude, even when it’s not intended. Don’t overreact or respond in kind. Take a breath. Consider calling rather than emailing a response. Try to keep the atmosphere positive.
  10. Prepare. As always, be sure to prepare well in advance. Know your resistance point and your BATNA — your best alternative to a negotiated agreement—before going in. Consider your strategy and what tactics you may use.

Negotiating by email is here to stay, so it’s important to neutralize potential pitfalls and maximize your opportunity for success. Words alone are a powerful means of communication, as is evidenced by the many classic books that make us feel deeply and move us in profound ways. However, like those classics, finding the right words takes care and work. But mastering this skill is worth it.


cindy watson

Cindy Watson is the founder of Women on Purpose, a TEDx international speaker, and the award-winning author of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller “The Art of Feminine Negotiation: How to Get What You Want from the Boardroom to the Bedroom“. Learn more at ArtOfFeminineNegotiation.com.