Negotiating in the Dark


Interesting article by Ira Meislik of Meislik & Meislik, a specialist US real estate firm, on the benefits of telephone negotiation over exchanges of emails, or the drafting of interlocutory motions rather than sorting out matters head to head.  The article is called “Negotiating in the Dark, i.e., by e-Mail Alone”.

Using email to negotiate complicated matters is like playing tennis in total darkness. You don’t know where to aim the ball, but you hit it over the net (if you can) anyway. The return can’t be seen, you only hear it bounce. That’s email for complicated issues.

When you play tennis in the sunlight, you can see your opponent’s position and stance. That let’s you choose from a much smaller number of possible shots. You can respond to your opponent’s returns. The result is that you volley. You play the game together. That’s the telephone approach.

I can well understand the tendency to communicate via the written word…there is an easy tendency to view it as more precise.  It is also less confrontational…although the recipient might not think so if distance has metaphorically given you the courage to “take the gloves off”.  However communication includes so many non-verbal and even more non-written signals, that people can easily mis-read the most simple and clear communication you can think of.  You would not think it possible to misunderstand some of the phrases that people will swear meant something else.  As Ira says:

Negotiation is an interactive process. You pick up on cues. It is analog – you adjust to what you hear. It isn’t digital – perfect statements, each within own channel.

In addition, it has to be said (does this make me a curmudgeon?) that written communication is not what it was.  Clarity of expression, use of punctuation, economy or words…foreign concepts it seems to many graduates.  By the standards of the great writers I’m an admiring also-ran (more accurately, a never-ran), but I’m still streets ahead of most graduates.  The Decline and Fall of the Written Word Empire gathers pace.

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About Ivan McIntosh

I am a partner of Carter Atmore Law...residing in City Road just off the busy thoroughfare of Symonds Street, Auckland, New Zealand....where we are specialist business & property development lawyers, working for both local and international clients. Proud husband to Joanna, and dad to two sons. Passionate rugby supporter. Email: imcintosh@calaw.co.nz Ph: 64 9 921 5026
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