Sight Over Sound: When Face-To-Face Communication Improves Negotiation


Mode of communication matters! So say Kellogg School of Management professors Roderick Swaab, Adam D. Galinsky, Victoria Medvec and Daniel Diermeier.
In research described in the article below, the Northwestern University team discovered, not surprisingly, that face-to-face communication is critical to negotiation in two circumstances.

  • When two parties don’t know each other well
  • When two parties have a history of negative interactions

When the parties already know each other AND “have a history of cooperation” and positive interactions, face-to-face communication is not so important. In short, where there is trust, negotiating partners assume the best in each other.

Let’s start with this question: Why?

We easily understand the need for direct, in-person communication in the first two circumstances. What we are likely to underestimate is the need for personal exchanges with people we know, but with whom we just don’t have that storehouse of positive interactions.

While the Kellogg team’s research was specifically related to negotiation, my sense is that we can apply this insight to all of our business and personal interactions. After all, as Jack Kaine, our Vistage Speaker on negotiations, says, “Every interaction between two human beings is a negotiation.”

This study also prompts me to ask additional questions:

  • In each of our lives, what important relationships still require us to build a “history of positive interaction” before we can become highly reliant on written communication?
  • When we want to resolve a situation, is it worth pausing and asking ourselves whether we should continue using email — or would it be better to schedule a meeting?

Here’s the full article: http://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/index.php/Kellogg/article/sight_over_sound

Elisa K. Spain