As the world deals with the magnitude of the COVID-19 virus, we find our daily lives transformed in ways we never thought possible. Businesses are experiencing a period of growing uncertainty. All signed contracts seem to be at risk. Many organizations are restricting travel, limiting employee congregations and are even having their teams work from home. In an instant, a world that we thought couldn’t get more virtual did just that.
We're being faced with the new challenge of running our businesses without any face-to-face interactions. How do we stay connected to our clients, suppliers and employees while distancing ourselves from each other for public and personal safety? How do we minimize damage to everything we’ve worked so hard to build?
The greatest challenges will be around how we renegotiate contracts, resolve conflicts and protect our future. Working virtually can present its own set of challenges, but it can also create a whole new world of opportunities. Below are five tips to help you navigate your way through this public crisis.
The medium matters not
Whether you’re negotiating face-to-face, virtually or via carrier pigeon, the same core principles of negotiation apply. However, you must be mindful of the medium and the impact that it can have. For instance, working virtually unlocks many possibilities that you don’t have when working in person, such as utilizing technology to communicate with other members on your team, accessing information and data incognito, leveraging collaborative tools and even creating more dynamic, visually appealing presentations. That said, if you’re not working in person, it will be more difficult to see and read body language. Therefore, you must be more attuned to listening for verbal signals of flexibility. The point being, don’t let the medium inhibit your negotiation — rather, embrace it and allow it to open up more possibilities.
Get curious, not defensive
Requests to change current contracts or to get out of existing obligations are coming your way, if they’re not already there. Your initial reaction to a change request is to assume the defensive position and protect what you have. My advice? Be curious. These are extraordinary times, and while there’s a common theme around COVID-19, don’t assume you know all of the underlying reasons for the requested change. Ask questions. Seek to understand what’s happening in their business and how this crisis is impacting them. The more information you can gather — identifying what’s most important to them — the better you'll be able to create a viable solution.
Resist the entrepreneur's need to solve problems
As entrepreneurs, we move quickly. We solve problems. And we take great pride in doing both well. In fact, that’s likely the reason why our businesses are successful in the first place. However, at this moment it’s important to think through how you can give the other party what they’re asking for in a way that’s acceptable to you. This requires you to hit pause and create some space. Instead of trying to find all the reasons to say “no,” find the ways you can say “yes.” Think about what you want and need in return. Just because we’re in the midst of a crisis doesn’t mean that you have to give everything away. Take time to think about your trades.
This crisis is only momentary - negotiate accordingly
The changes you make to an agreement in order to address current issues can become the new norm unless you put limitations and qualifiers on the terms that you’ve agreed to. For instance, simple phrasings, like “one-time” or “COVID-19-related,” can help you to ensure that the other side doesn’t come back, post-crisis, expecting your generosity to continue ad infinitum. Instead, you’ll be in a position to limit the changes that were made during an extraordinary moment in time.
Emotions still exist in the virtual world
Much of the conflict you’ll be dealing with is emotionally driven. After all, people are worried about their jobs, taking care of their families and/or saving their businesses. Communicating virtually can sometimes mask underlying emotion. If you ignore those emotions, you could very well be viewed as callous. Worse yet, ignoring them could turn a collaborative conversation into a competitive one. While you might not be able to control the emotions of others, I would encourage you to be mindful of your emotional state. If you’re feeling too close to the issues or too emotionally invested, consider bringing someone with you who’s less attached to the situation’s outcome. They can provide you with perspective and balance.
Related: 10 Tips to Negotiate Like a Boss
With all of that said, minimizing COVID-19’s long-term financial impact while managing at-risk contracts will take discipline, mindfulness and commitment to a vision that extends beyond this moment. But if you put this time to use wisely and incorporate the virtual opportunities presented by necessity, you can come out of this in far better shape than you might have imagined.