Significance of Communication in Negotiation

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What is the significance of “communication” in a negotiation?

Negotiation is essentially an exercise in communication. The underlying objective is to use communication techniques to convince, persuade, or alter the perceptions of another. The three most significant elements of communication include verbal communications, non-verbal communications, and the medium of communication.

• Verbal Communication – The effectiveness of verbal communication in a negotiation depends upon the ability of the speaker to encode thoughts properly and on the ability of the listener to understand and decode the intended message(s). Language operates at two levels: the logical level (for proposals or offers) and the pragmatic level (semantics, syntax, and style). We often focus upon logical attributes instead of semantic or style attributes. In any event, the meaning conveyed by a proposition or statement is a combination of one logical, surface message and several pragmatic messages. A negotiator’s word choice, tone, tempo, and inflections may not only signal a position but also shape and predict it.

• Nonverbal Communication – Non-verbal communication is anything that is “not words”. Examples of non-verbal communication includes: vocal cues or paralinguistic cues; facial expressions; eye contact; interpersonal spacing; posture; body movements; gestures; touching, etc. Generally, successful communicators are nonverbally sensitive, nonverbally expressive, nonverbally self-controlled, and motivated to perform for their “audiences”. It can be extremely important with regard to persuasion, power, and trust. People assert dominance and power through nonverbal cues. High social power is reliably indicated by patterns of looking while speaking and listening. Body language can be aggressive, coy, eager, engaged, inviting, closed-off, etc. A skilled negotiator will use any non-verbal communications in a manner that furthers her strategy and strengthens her position. A neutral exhibition of non-verbal communication is known as “attending behaviors”. Attending behavior lets the other know that you are listening and prepares her to receive your message. Examples of attending behavior include making eye contact when speaking and adjusting one’s body position to show engagement.

• Communication Channel – People negotiate through a variety of communication media: over the telephone, in writing, and increasingly through such electronic channels as e-mail and teleconferencing systems, instant messaging, and even text messaging. It is important to recognize the context of the negotiation and select a communication channel that maximizes the potential for value creation and agreement. Sometimes, however, there is little option to choose a channel. In such a case, it is important to be aware of the general hurdles that any communication channel entails. For example, there is evidence that negotiation through written channels is more likely to end in impasse than negotiation that occurs face-to-face or by phone. There is also evidence that e-mail negotiators reach agreements that are more equal than face-to-face negotiators. Further, negotiators using e-mail need to work harder at building personal rapport with the other party if they are to overcome limitations of the channel that would otherwise inhibit optimal agreements or fuel impasse.

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