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How to Negotiate Over the Phone

The Scotwork Team

Successful negotiators know that one of the (many) secrets of negotiation is effective communication to tell your counterpart:

  • What you want;
  • You know what they want; and
  • What you’re prepared (or not prepared) to concede on.

Through communication you build mutual trust with your counterpart, leading to a more productive relationship. However, with 70% of our communication conveyed via non-verbal cues, how can we negotiate well when these cues are absent? For instance, when we’re negotiating over the phone?

Although face-to-face negotiations are preferable, increasingly, we find ourselves needing to conduct negotiations either partially or fully across other channels such as phone, email, or video conferencing. Here we’ll focus on phone negotiations and our top tips for success.



As with in-person negotiations, preparation is key to negotiating over the phone.


Know Yourself

Carefully consider your objective and strategy. How will you manage the communication, especially if you have more than one team member on the call? Know what information you will and won’t share. Understand your hard and soft limits. At what point will you walk away?


Know Your Counterpart

Understand what makes the opposing party tick. What do they want and which points are they likely to relax on?

Aim to give your counterpart what they want on your terms. Be prepared with an agenda and a “go-to” list of items that you can throw into the negotiation. It helps to keep the discussion on track, plus improves your relationship. So do your homework before you pick up that phone.

But what if someone calls you out of the blue?

For the best possible outcome, you need to be in control, which means being fully prepared. Buy yourself some thinking time by finding out what he or she wants and then ask if you can call them back.


Reduce Distractions

Research has shown time and again that multitasking is inefficient and can be distracting, impacting your ability to recall details and to actively listen.

As tempting as it is to check your emails while you’re on a call, turn off your monitor or mobile phone. You may even want to move to a quiet, distraction-free zone.

When you’re negotiating over the phone, you’re already disadvantaged by the loss of body language cues, so it’s vitally important for you to be focused.


Listen Carefully when Negotiating

Listening is essential in any negotiation, but it becomes doubly so when you’re negotiating over the phone where you’ve lost the opportunity to interpret gestures and posture. Concentrate on what the other person is saying, not only the words but also their tone.

Don’t be afraid to clarify more often than you would during an in-person negotiation. Playing back what’s been said will help to keep everyone on the same page.


Building Rapport

Relationships are at the core of negotiations. Many successful deals have been struck at the water cooler or in a lift whilst making “small talk”. How can you build that all-important rapport when negotiating over the phone?

At the outset, match the tone and pace of your counterpart as you would in person. Don’t underestimate the importance of light conversation, either. Not only does “small talk” help you to build a stronger connection with the other party, but you’ll also be able to gauge their mood – no small feat when you can’t see the other person.

If you have the chance, engage in mixed media negotiations. Get to know the person you are negotiating with in a face-to-face meeting before moving to the phone or video-conferencing to get into the details. With a stronger rapport comes better mutual trust and respect. 


Confirm Negotiation Outcome in Writing

Trying to recall the details of a conversation can be challenging, especially when you need to listen carefully and take notes. If you haven’t got a designated note-taker, then it’s a good idea to write up your notes immediately after the call. You’ll have a much better chance of retrieving the details from your short-term memory bank.

It’s good practice to send a summary of your discussion to your counterpart so that they can confirm their understanding of what was agreed. This could take the form of meeting minutes or an emailed summary of the key points, asking them to confirm their agreement in writing.

Not only is it good practice but again, helps you to establish trust and rapport.


How to Negotiate Over the Phone Effectively

  • Negotiating over the phone can be challenging, but with the right preparation, you can achieve satisfactory outcomes.
  • Building rapport is key to a long-term relationship.
  • Put yourself in the best position to listen carefully by removing any distractions and concentrating on the words and tone used.

For negotiation trainingget in contact with Scotwork.

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