International negotiator and author, Derek Arden, takes a look at the art of negotiation by email – how to remain business-like and courteous, whilst getting your points across in a persuasive and concise way.
Email has become the communication method of choice for many people in business today, but because it is largely a one-way communication tool with no immediate feedback, it should perhaps be used sparingly for negotiations.
Inevitably however, face-to-face discussions aren’t always practical, so in those situations email provides a great alternative to keep the negotiation moving, with the added bonus of a written record effectively giving you an audit trail so you can refer to previous exchanges.
So, rather than shy away from email in negotiations entirely, how can we go about crafting a powerful, succinct message that will help get you what you want?
Draft your email and review it carefully
Once you have written your message, go back and ask yourself if you have expressed yourself clearly, if you have answered their questions, and if there is any ambiguity. If you are in any doubt about an email, there are a few precautions you should take:
- Compose the email or reply in a new window, so it does not get sent by mistake before you are ready. You can also address it to yourself to see what it looks like in your inbox.
- Do not press send too quickly. If it is a critical message print it out and read it through slowly. You are starting a conversation or replying to an email, ensure that you have read through the email carefully to ensure it conveys what you want to say.
- Sleep on it. In the heat of the moment it can be tempting to respond quickly, but if things get tricky it often it pays to wait 24 hours before replying.
- Don’t forget, USING CAPITALS IN EMAIL IS JUST LIKE SHOUTING and using red is angry! Keep bold or italics for highlighting only the most important points, and keep in mind that different email systems format in different ways so if appearance and layout really is crucial, you might want to attach a PDF.
Be business-like and friendly
Whilst emails should be business-like, never forget the human touch as there is a person at the other end who wants to help. They are going to help the people who treat them courteously, with respect rather than abruptly or in an offhand way – people buy from people, even in the digital world.
If you think the other person has not understood what you meant, then address the issue directly and try to clarify what the problem is. Explain what you were saying a different way, or use imagery to help. Remember that with email it can be hard to gauge tone and you will not be able to see their reaction, so ensure your language is appropriate and do not leave any room for confusion.
Email can be really useful when discussing specifics or finalising details. The great advantage is that you can see all the text of previous emails so and go through fine detail carefully in your own time, and if you want to go back to something, you can just copy and paste the relevant text word-for-word.
Send at a good time
Psychologists have told me that the state or the frame of mind the recipient is in when they get a message which determines how they interpret the email.
Additionally, the time of day when people open emails might determine how favourably they receive it, together with the way they interpret key words in the email. Studies have showed that the later in the afternoon or evening, the less favourably a recipient is likely to view an email, and messages that are read late at night on their smart device are more likely to get a short or aggressive reply.
Do not forget:
- Be polite – always keep it friendly by including a personal note and asking how they are. Do not forget to use the recipient’s name.
- Keep it brief – long emails tend not to be digested thoroughly, so keep it to the point, but not so short that it appears rude.
- Give options – make the email feel like an exchange, by offering options. Give them different packages, times, or locations, for example, ‘If you can do …, we can do ….’
- Close courteously – the habit of making emails with a time deadline on them and including no best wishes or ‘Thanks for all your help’ or something similar is not congruent to working towards a win win. Take five seconds longer to make it look better.
Derek Arden is an international negotiator, a conference speaker and author of Win Win: How to get a positive result from persuasive negotiations, published by Pearson on 16 July 2015. See: www.Derekarden.co.uk or follow him on twitter: @derekarden