Email Negotiation Advice

Posted on Categories Legal Writing

With the onslaught of email and texting, it’s not surprising that more and more negotiation is being conducted by email.  Two interesting recent pieces from the blogosphere had some advice on this.  First, you should not actually be conducting negotiation over the email according to Vicky Pynchon at Settle It Now.  Scientific American just published a study that shows people are more likely to lie over email than when writing things down with pencil and paper.  “The authors suggest that e-mail is a young phenomenon and its social rules are looser and still evolving, whereas when you put something in writing, psychologically there is a stronger hold—it’s really there, in writing.”

And, should you be contemplating sending late night email, you might want to install this new program from Google.  As Diane Levin helpfully points out,   

Google, understanding full well the dark side of human nature (particularly that side of human nature that responds to its email after too many Jell-O shots in the wee hours of the morning), offers a solution: Mail Goggles. Here’s how it works:

When you enable Mail Goggles, it will check that you’re really sure you want to send that late night Friday email. And what better way to check than by making you solve a few simple math problems after you click send to verify you’re in the right state of mind?

By default, Mail Goggles is only active late night on the weekend as that is the time you’re most likely to need it. Once enabled, you can adjust when it’s active in the General settings.

What seems to me to still be missing is an email program that prevents “flaming” emails from being sent that you then later regret.  Perhaps Google can create a program that screens for four-letter words or too many exclamation points and then asks you if would prefer to send this email to a friend rather than the negotiator on the other side?

Cross-posted at indisputably.

3 thoughts on “Email Negotiation Advice”

  1. I posted this over at Indisputably, but I’ll copy and paste it here as well:

    So, being the tech nerd that I am, I did a little testing of Mail Goggles. I mean, it’s a cute function, and it’ll probably save some embarrassment, but I don’t know that the problems are difficult enough that most reasonably drunk people couldn’t solve them (unless, of course, the application is designed to frustrate people enough into not even trying.)

    But the bigger problem with the program is that it only works if you’re accessing Gmail from the WEB-based client. That is to say, if you’re like me and use a third-party mail client (Netscape Messenger, Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, etc.) to pull in e-mail from multiple accounts, it completely circumvents the Mail Goggle process. It doesn’t even error out; it just sends it like nothing’s changed. So, really, the protection isn’t going to work for anyone who doesn’t check e-mail on the web.

    As I’ve always said, the trick to prevent sending drunk e-mails is to turn off your computer before going out. That way, it takes WAY too much effort to get to the e-mail sending process when you get back home 🙂

  2. I can see how ordinary people might regard email and hand-written documents differently. But is that true for lawyers, in their roles as advocates? I would think you would get the same amount of dissembling either way. In fact, my guess would be that you would get even more lying when the negotiations are face-to-face, and there’s no transcript.

  3. I can’t say I agree with Pynchon. Sure, certain circumstances exist where online negotiations are not appropriate. In many situations, however, negotiating through email can produce better outcomes for both parties than in face-to-face settings. In a mediation course I am currently taking, I tested the validity of the Fisher & Ury interest-based negotiation method in the online setting and found that approach to work just as well, if not better, than traditional negotiations.

    As for the Scientific America study, I agree that we hold email communications to low standards of social etiquette, as they are typically filled with acronyms appropriate only for email, lowercase letters instead of capitals, and of course, the colon and parenthesis creating the ubiquitous smiley-face emoticon. Despite this lowered standard in typical online communications, email negotiations can, and do, produce successful results.

    I agree with Prof. Boyden that in face-to-face negotiations parties may be more apt to lie. This, I believe, is because in traditional negotiations, each side can come to the table filled with emotion and impulsively react to the other side’s demands, without having the necessary time to cool down, absorb what has been said, and give a well thought-out response. In the email setting, parties more easily bypass that emotion, are more cognizant of their word choice, and have more time to think before responding to the other party’s inquiries, leading to a more genuine and thoughtful response (well, maybe after the Mail Goggle stops a late-night first draft).

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