Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter March 1999

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A website visitor recently asked about negotiating on the telephone. It is something we all do, so perhaps you'll find these observations interesting:

Negotiating on the telephone is generally far less satisfying from a human standpoint than doing so face to face. We are deprived of the opportunity to observe the expressions and body language of the people with whom we are negotiating. For example, when we are face-to-face, we can observe whether the other person is looking us straight in the eye or is uncomfortable and avoiding eye contact.

Telephone negotiation is often most effective when it is a follow-up to in person conversations.

Nonetheless, negotiating on the telephone is more satisfying on a human level than doing so using letters, faxes, or email. At least on the telephone we can hear if someone is hesitating, we can listen for the tone of their voice. Written communications may have gone through several drafts; telephone conversations are less likely to follow a carefully-crafted script.

In order to negotiate effectively on the telephone we need to consider a few rules that also apply to face-to-face negotiation:

1. We should be well-prepared. It is a good idea to have a clear sense, or at least informed assumptions, about what interests are most important to ourselves and the person with whom we are negotiating. Doing a good job of homework can be crucial.

2. One of the worst things about telephone negotiation, and negotiation in general, is when we forget to pay attention to particular points. Thus, on the phone or in person, it makes excellent sense to have written notes prepared ahead of time which pinpoint significant issues we don't want to forget to discuss. Just this morning I had a telephone negotiation with a client for which the two of us had planned ahead. Yesterday, when I called him to set up today's conversation, we put together a list of things we planned to discuss. That gave us each time to gather relevant information in order to have a more efficient, and satisfactory conversation today.

3. One crucial rule of negotiation, to Listen Actively, is particularly important in telephone negotiations since sound is the only medium of communication involved. Don't interrupt the other party, don't spend your 'listening time' figuring out how you're going to 'zap' them when they finally stop talking. The better you listen, the better you can learn, and the more likely you will be able to respond in a way that improves the negotiation's result.

4. Don't let the immediacy of a telephone call force you into fast, unwise decisions. There is nothing wrong in saying to the other party something like, "What you have been saying has given me several things to think about. (a) I'm going to be quiet for a few moments to consider what you've said. or (b) Let me give it more serious consideration; I'll call you back by a certain time to continue our discussion."


Negotiation is a soft skill. While you can learn how to attach a widget to a wodget by watching a video, and while flight simulation software is extremely popular, in each of those cases there's normally only one right answer. Negotiation is not like that; you need to have the capacity to roll with punches, to modify your strategy or tactics when a new factor crops up.

On top of that, negotiation is a person-to-person activity, even when it takes place using the telephone, email, or sending letters to other parties. Most spouses will agree that there's no such thing as absolute predictability in human interaction; this certainly applies to negotiation.

Thus, we remain skeptical when we receive proposals from people who want to sell whole negotiation courses on videos, software, or over the Internet. Certain lessons and techniques may well lend themselves to electronic learning media, but developing or enhancing negotiation skills comes best with practice with real people.

TNSC is being courted to offer negotiation training electronically; what do you think?


In 1998, TNSC trainers were in the air for more than four hundred hours. That's nearly three full weeks off the ground. However, we have not yet been invited to go on a Space Shuttle mission to train multinational crews how to negotiate together.


A year ago, our website had about 3000 to 4000 hits a week from as many as twenty countries. Since the beginning of 1999, we've averaged approximately 13,000 hits a week from thirty-five to forty countries. The site is updated frequently. Our negotiation advice section, 'Q & A Column' has grown by leaps and bounds, with questions ranging from how to deal with unscrupulous auto mechanics to coping with a medical establishment that is closed-minded about using anything other than medical technology to deal with pediatric cancer. Come visit and see what people are concerned about.


"You can't count on negotiating everything all at once. Getting what you want may take more time than you think." (Steven P. Cohen)

Good luck and good negotiating,

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