10 Tips for Women Needing to Negotiate in a Virtual World

Whether it’s related to salary, contracts, sales agreements, mergers and acquisitions, or even just day-to-day processes, as women in business, we must be great negotiators.

The problem? It’s no secret that there’s a gender gap in negotiation performance.

Why? The obvious answer is that women are statistically less likely to advocate for themselves than men are. In fact, men are almost a quarter more likely to negotiate a pay rise than women. But there’s something a little darker lurking under the surface.

One of the biggest challenges facing women negotiators is the potential for social backlash. As Harvard Law School states, ‘female negotiators, as well as racial minorities, are likely to face bias in negotiations even before they have a chance to begin bargaining’. The act of negotiating can often be seen as ‘bossy’ or ‘assertive’; traits that, for a very long time, have widely been considered ‘unfeminine’ in nature.

While we’re well on the way to changing outdated and damaging perceptions like this, there is still very much an unconscious social bias that says ‘women behave in this way’.

And so many women already find traditional face-to-face negotiations challenging. And now, with the shift to virtual negotiations, things are becoming even more tricky.

The Rise of Virtual Negotiations

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, some negotiations had started to shift online. The growing availability of digital communications tools had already started the virtual movement. The global health crisis, however, is what has accelerated the movement.

What this means for many of us today as women is that we’re not only having to navigate business negotiations from an already challenging standpoint, but we’re also having to factor in the changes taking place as these negotiations move online as new remote working policies are rolled out to enhance the health and safety of workers.

In terms of individual progression, gender equality, business success, and even society, it’s imperative that women know how to negotiate virtually, and share their voices.

How to Negotiate Virtually

While negotiating virtually is still an unknown for many women, it can be done. And it can be done successfully. Here are 10 simple yet effective tips for improving outcomes:

1. Prepare Yourself

Even if you’ve developed great negotiating skills over the years, the fact is that an unfamiliar environment can be all it takes to shake your confidence. Engaging in complex discussions over Zoom is always going to be different to interacting face-to-face, so being fully prepared for negotiating in a new virtual world is vital.

2. Get to Grips with Zoom

If you’ve carefully planned out how you’re going to guide negotiations, the last thing you want is for your plans to be thrown out of sync by dreaded’ technical difficulties’. Be clear in advance what software or channels you’ll be using during discussions, and ensure you understand how best to use the tools to reduce the risk of tech distractions.

3. Build Emotional Intelligence

During face-to-face negotiations, it can often be easy to read deeper into another person’s thoughts through their hand gestures and movements, enabling you to plan your next move. In virtual settings, this isn’t always possible. However, building emotional intelligence skills can help you better understand facial expressions on video calls.

4. Negotiate Communally

While social distancing may be effective at reducing viral spread, it can also make women appear that they’re working in isolation during negotiations. This is why it’s so important to negotiate communally, highlighting wider benefits outside of your own interests. Be collaborative; show how the outcome of discussions can impact others.

5. Say What You Mean

Research shows that women typically speak less than men do during face-to-face negotiations, instead relying partly on body language to deliver their message. However, body language doesn’t always translate well to virtual environments, which means it’s important to be direct in verbal communications, and say what you mean.

6. Research Alternative Views

A 2021 study found that the gender gap in negotiation performance is often heightened when women present a ‘strong outside opinion’, so being able to demonstrate awareness of alternative views and where your view fits in can help. If you’re working remotely, you may need to do research with others in preparation.

7. Prepare Digital Documentation

In face-to-face negotiations, it’s normal to bring supporting documents that back up your point of view. In virtual negotiations, however, physical documents can often be overlooked, and potentially even ignored. Instead, take some time to prepare digital copies of any important information, and send to everyone involved prior to meeting.

8. Be Aware of Your Behaviours

Interestingly, studies have found that while men tend to behave in similar ways when they’re negotiating in-person and virtually, women can often behave more aggressively in virtual negotiations. And unfortunately, aggressive behaviours may have a negative impact on outcomes. Be confident, but try not to become argumentative.

9. Set Realistic Expectations

Negotiating in a virtual world may be completely new to you. But it’s important to remember that it’s probably completely new to others, too. Set realistic expectations, and don’t assume negotiations will take the exact same pathway as they did before the pandemic. Be patient. Understand the scenario. And be available for follow ups. 

10. Remember: Virtual Negotiations are Still Negotiations

Overall, perhaps the most important aspect to take into account here is that while the venue may be different, the principles are still the same. No matter what format negotiations take, or where or how they’re held, a good negotiator still ensures they’re getting the right message across, sharing their views, and focusing on what matters.

Winning in the Post-Pandemic Landscape

The truth of the matter is that women inherently possess a number of natural traits that can make them excellent negotiators, namely cooperativeness and ethics, according to research. And as women, what we need to be prioritising right now is learning how we can translate these skills into virtual communications to make us better, more confident negotiators in the online space, and close the gender performance gap.

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