Wharton@Work

November 2020 | 

Negotiating in a Virtual World

Negotiating in a Virtual World

If you’ve found that your powers of persuasion and ability to quickly build rapport with a business colleague have diminished in today’s virtual work environment, you are not alone. Gone are the days of bumping into a business acquaintance in the elevator, dropping by a colleague’s office for an impromptu meeting, or simply meeting up for lunch. Those casual but recurring interactions went a long way to helping you plant the seeds for your business ideas and identify potential allies for any strategic initiatives you were looking to advance within your company.

The continuing need for trust, rapport, and persuasion, though, means successful outcomes require new skills and the adapting of existing strengths. To meet that need, Wharton Executive Education is launching a new program called Negotiation and Influence: Making Deals and Strategy Work. “The program explicitly addresses the issues unique to persuasion and negotiation in virtual settings,” says Professor Cade Massey. “And because the focus is highly personal — leveraging assessments, practice, and feedback — participants are able to relate and directly apply the research to their own strengths and situations in real time.”

Negotiation and Influence puts participants in the very situations that help them build the skills needed to achieve business results (internally and externally), resolve conflicts, and effect change. By design, the program provides many opportunities to build relationships, increase influence, and negotiate with a new set of peers.

This live virtual program meets once a week for six weeks. During weekly classroom sessions, knowledge, tools, and insights are shared. Between each weekly session, participants work independently and in groups to pressure-test the concepts through exercises, mock negotiations, and conversations. Feedback and debriefs with faculty offer the opportunity to fine-tune your approach throughout the program.

Massey acknowledges that interacting with another party completely online can complicate important aspects of influence and negotiation. “In person,” says Massey, “you can convey and pick up a richer set of signals. Not being able to fully understand your counterpart, missing visual and social cues, and other limiting factors can put you at a disadvantage. This program is designed to teach you how to recognize and interpret interpersonal signals in both face-to-face and virtual settings. New approaches and practice help you adapt to different situations and increase your effectiveness.”

Professor Richard Shell, who literally wrote the book on negotiations, is also teaching in Negotiation and Influence. He says a lack of information about or relationship with the other party can cause you to try to fill in those knowledge gaps incorrectly. “It’s easy to fall back on stereotypes,” he explains, “but they get in the way. They make you think you know more than you really do. A generalization about gender roles or people of a certain nationality, for example, doesn’t take into account individual preferences and differences.”

Shell — who has taught FBI hostage negotiators, Navy SEALs, and senior leaders preparing for make-or-break situations — continues, “You have to start with the personal. Everyone has a bargaining style, and that should be your focus at the beginning. You need to determine who this person is, what they want, and how they are likely to try to get it.”

The program takes “starting with the personal” literally. Participants will take Shell’s Negotiation I.Q. test that reveals personal strengths and weaknesses. There will also be another assessment that will help participants learn how to read others and identify their own negotiating style. A series of increasingly complex negotiations provides ample opportunities for understanding and working with others’ bargaining styles.

Massey says that personal focus has become all-important in today’s virtual environment. “People are not spending the time on relationships the way they did before,” he notes. “It’s not as easy when there’s no hallway to walk down or coffee to share. That means fewer relationships are being built, and existing ones are being allowed to atrophy. And that is happening at a time when social capital is at a premium.”

“Successful outcomes depend on relationships,” he continues. “You need to be in a constant mode of building and maintaining them to be influential and to create better bargaining results.” He notes that many negotiation opportunities are missed by failing to take that critical step. “If you don’t tap into your relationship with the other party, or at least recognize their approach and think more broadly about their objectives, you can focus too narrowly on terms or a dollar amount, which often means neglecting to find a more creative solution that delivers greater value.”

One way in which the Negotiation and Influence program will enable participants to find more creative solutions is by teaching them how to further leverage relationships to build coalitions. In the program’s sixth and final session, participants will learn how to create and change coalitions and how to hold coalitions together when they threaten to break apart. These vital yet often misunderstood alliances play an important part in both influence and negotiations. Understanding how to form, maintain, and deploy them in a virtual environment can be key to advancing your position.