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Choosing Among Modes of Communication
Andrea Kupfer Schneider & Sean A. McCarthy
Editors’ Note: This chapter serves as the overview to all of the chapters on the use of different media and technology as part of negotiation. How do we make sense of all our options? The authors argue that knowing your own “default”, while understanding your counterpart and the context, is crucial. Being able to choose wisely among the different modes requires careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages that go along with each of these. This chapter can usefully be read in conjunction with Thompson, Ebner, and Giddings on Nonverbal Communication, as well as with the technology chapters—particularly, Ebner’s chapters on Email, Texting, and Videoconferencing.
Differences in Modes of Communication
It is helpful to outline the differences between the modes of communication, and then to think about how they operate in a negotiation. First, different modes permit varying levels of social intuition [NDR: Schneider & Ebner, Social Intuition] as well as perception ofnonverbal language. [NDR: Thompson et al., Nonverbal] Face to face conversations are considered media “rich” because they allow tracking of multiple social cues (Barsness and Bhappu 2004; Bhappu and Barsness 2006). In face to face conversations (in person and online via video), you can interpret body language, tone, eye contact, and facial expressions in addition to hearing the content of the conversation. Phone conversations provide some of this; through the tone, pauses, and inflections of even a verbal conversation, we can learn a lot about how the other party is feeling, in addition to the content. Email (or texting), on the other hand, does not incorporate those contextual elements. We will discuss below how to add “e-empathy” to your communication to try to bring that media richness into all of your communications.
The difference between modes of communication is also reflected in the content that comes across. In face to face conversations, the conversation often rapidly switches between the personal and the professional, the mundane (think the weather) and the more on point. In email communications, the content tends to be more task oriented. What do we need to get done? What is the answer to X? This is less personal, unless we take the time in the email (often at the beginning or end, or both) to add the personal touches. We are more trained (at least in U.S. culture) to schmooze automatically at the beginning of a face to face negotiation; this same impulse does not necessarily occur online.
Another noticeable difference is the timing of conversations. Face to face conversations are, by their very nature, synchronous conversations. In other words, both parties are engaged at the same time. Even when one side is talking, the other person is interacting through their body language and responses. Online communication may occur simultaneously, particularly with texting, but only if both parties happen to be on their devices at the same time and choose to engage that way. Often, our emails are sent without direct knowledge of whether the other party is available to read one at that time (or even within a short period of time.) In face to face conversations, also, we often take turns—question, response, follow-up question, response, etc. Via email, particularly when one of the parties is at meetings or otherwise unavailable, the communication can stack up. We’ve all been in this situation—10 emails waiting for us about a topic where others might already have chimed in. Or the situation has evolved over the course of time, and you are reading the fifth email about a particular issue that arose several hours ago. Notably, many of us also tend to read emails from most recent to least recent—meaning that we read them in the opposite order in which they were generated.
Finally, the asynchronicity of email also means that while our “work” hours might be over for the day, our work communication via email or text can continue (for better and worse) throughout our waking hours. And this flexibility impacts the level of distraction as well as on what device we typically read. We might be reading email about important subjects over dinner in the evening, while watching television, or in the midst of putting kids to sleep. We might be reading over a small phone....
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Barsness, Z. I. and A. D. Bhappu. 2004. At the Crossroads of Technology and Culture: Social Influence, Information Sharing, and Sense-Making Processes During Negotiations. In The Handbook of Negotiation & Culture, edited by M. J. Gelfand and J. M. Brett. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
Bhappu, A. D. and Z. I. Barsness. 2006. Risks of Email. In The Negotiator’s Fieldbook: The Desk Reference for the Experienced Negotiator, edited by A. K. Schneider and C. Honeyman. Washington DC: American Bar Association.
Bhappu, A.D., T. L. Griffith and G. B. Northcraft. 1997. Media Effects and Communication Bias in Diverse Groups. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 70(3): 199-205.
Ebner, N. 2014. Negotiation Via (the New) Email. In Negotiation Excellence: Successful Deal Making, 2nd ed. edited by M. Benoliel. World Scientific Publishing: Singapore.
Ebner, N., A. Bhappu, J. G. Brown, K. K. Kovach and A. K. Schneider. 2009. You’ve Got Agreement: Negoti@ing Via Email. In Rethinking Negotiation Teaching: Innovations for Context and Culture, edited by C. Honeyman, J. Coben, and G. De Palo. St Paul, MN: DRI Press.
Morris, M., J. Nadler, T. R. Kurtzberg and L. Thompson. 2002. Schmooze or Lose: Social Friction and Lubrication in E-mail Negotiations. Group Dynamics 6(1): 89-100.
Schneider, A. K. 2012. Teaching a New Negotiation Skills Paradigm. Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 39: 13-38.