Effective Communication

How to Negotiate Effectively Over Email

negotiate effectively over email

Communicating in person is always best,phone is second best, but sometimes neither option is possible. What happens when you need to communicate with a manager, potential new employer, or someone in your network and your only option is email?

The Difficulties of Trying to Negotiate Effectively Over Email

Email is tricky. While it’s an influential source of information, it’s also busy. The average office worker receives about 90 emails a day and sends around 40. That’s a lot of noise.

When you try to negotiate effectively over email, you can leave yourself at risk of getting overlooked or forgotten in the shuffle. It can also put you at high risk of being misunderstood.

Tone and emotion are difficult to convey in text. When you meet in-person, you can read their facial expressions, hand movements, and body language. Over the phone, you can gain more information through their tone of voice. But with email, you’re almost flying blind.

In one study, ten statements were emailed to participants—some sarcastic and some serious. The senders thought the correct emotion would be easy to identify, but recipients performed little better than random guessing.

The reality is that you cannot correctly convey emotions in your emails. Instead, you need to try to stick to straightforward information, sharing or asking close-ended questions, and leave the tricky topics to a phone call or meeting.

Still, that doesn’t mean you should never use email. You can still negotiate effectively over email; you just have to be smart and careful.

Read more in our blog, Negotiation Strategies for Leaders.


Also read: How to Craft a Cold Networking Email that Gets Results | Networking for Success Series


Understand the Limits of Email

The first key to effective negotiation is to understand your limits. If you have to communicate via email, then know what you’re getting yourself into. If you’re feeling particularly emotional or you want to use emotion to sway the situation, email is not going to be your friend.

There’s also the problem of “cyber disinhibition”, which is the idea that we’re far more likely to say things online via email, text, or social media that we would never say in person. If you can’t say it to someone’s face, then it should probably be left unsaid. But you have to recognize when this happens.

Also, remember that emails default toward a negative tone. You might think your negotiation is starting off neutral, but most people automatically read the most negative emotions and intentions, according to Psychology Today. Recognize that the tone you want to convey won’t come across and be prepared for that.

Learn how to overcome some these barriers in our blog,
Overcoming the “No”: Negotiating Creative Solutions.

Set the Stage at the Beginning

To negotiate effectively over email, you need to set the stage in the very beginning. Open up your email with a greeting that brings feelings in right away and makes the communication personal.

If you’re responding to an email, this could mean immediately offering thanks and demonstrating genuine excitement and gratitude for the chance to negotiate. Just be sure to avoid language that is overly flowery in favor of straightforward and simple communication.

For example, “Hi So and So, Thank you for your email. I am very grateful for the opportunity to discuss the salary of [$XXX] with you.”

If you’re the one to reach out first via email, you can still set the stage and bring emotion into the conversation; it just takes a little more care. A good way to set the stage is to introduce where you are at, so they have a better understanding of your situation.

For example, “It was wonderful meeting with you the other day. After I had the opportunity to think over our discussion, I realized I had a few additional questions that I wanted to bring up. I want to make sure we’re both on the same page before we move forward and felt clarification was needed.”

Express Empathy and Build Rapport

No one wants to negotiate effectively over email with someone they feel like they don’t have a relationship with. The good news is that developing a relationship over email doesn’t have to be difficult or frustrating. Often, a few phrases can make the difference.

First, focus on expressing positive emotions, similar to what you would share in person.

  • Excitement: “It’s so great to speak with you again!”
  • Confidence: “I fully believe that we can come to a resolution.”
  • Hopefulness: “I hope all is well and we can follow up with a phone call.”

Don’t be afraid to make small talk just as you would in face-to-face communication. This is natural and can drastically change the tone of an email. You can bring up something personal, “Did you daughter’s team win their volleyball match?” or something slightly more generic, “I hope you’re surviving the winter storm nice and cozy.”

Finally, let them know that you recognize that they’re a busy individual with a lot of other demands on their time. You don’t need to come across as apologetic or subservient, just aware. “I’m sure you’re buried with work—I know I am—so I’ll try to be straight to the point for both of our sakes.”


Also read: The Keys to Influence and Persuasion


Be Confident and State Your Wants and Needs

The key to any good negotiation strategy is to know what each side wants. Email is actually the ideal method for explaining exactly what you want to get out of the conversation and what you expect. Just remember that negotiation emails never disappear. They’re recorded forever, so be careful how you state your desires.

Strike a tone that is respectful, polite, and professional. Know the minimum and maximum parameters of what you’ll accept and work those into your offers. Some appropriate phrases to negotiate effectively over email include:

  • “Is there any wiggle room?”
  • “I’d like to discuss the other components of the compensation plan.”
  • “How willing are you to…?”
  • “If it’s not too sensitive, can you share the salary range for this role?”

Avoid absolutes that could come across too demanding and demeaning, ending negotiations before they even begin. Don’t say anything like, “I will not accept anything less…” or “My bills require…”

And remember to back up your wants with justification and research. Tools such as Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth can give you a sense of the appropriate salary for your position. And even if you’re not negotiating salary over email, any type of negotiation can be served by research. Studies have shown that negotiators who include a reason why they deserve something are 20% more effective than does who don’t.

Read, How to Get Paid What You’re Worth.

Follow Up with a Request to Speak In Person

At the end of the day, you can try to negotiate effectively over email, but nothing beats a discussion in person. So, when closing out your email, make sure you request a meeting, or at least a phone call, to talk more about the topic. Email should only ever be a jumping off point with further negotiations to come later.


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About the Author

Kelly Vo is a full-time freelance writer specializing in digital marketing, personal development, and content creation. A social media and brand development expert, you can find Kelly at http://kevowriting.com/ where she helps businesses and executives develop their authentic voice.