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The Dangers of Texting While Negotiating

The Dangers of Texting While Negotiating


Though not as potentially lethal as texting while driving, the use of texts by attorneys to communicate with the other party, if not done with care, may result in the negotiations crashing and burning. Texting is the preferred means of communicating for many people but given its limitations one must be careful when negotiating by text.

The main upsides for texting are ease and convenience. In addition face to face communications and even phone calls have a level of stress that can be avoided by the nearly contact-free text. “Millennials” born between the late 1970’s and the early 1990’s are often more comfortable with texting than talking. But you don’t get the social cues from the other person that you would during a conversation. Unless you know the other person well and have a good rapport it’s easy to read into texts feelings and emotions that aren’t there or perhaps miss feeling the person actually has.


Texting While Negotiating

The higher the stakes the bigger the problem can be. The Harvard Program on Negotiation states that Red Bank, Tennessee, police chief Tim Christol told the Associated Press that the lessons he gives to teach negotiations to law enforcement don’t apply if the hostage taker or the person who has barricaded him or herself in is communicating by text. It’s much more difficult to understand the person’s emotional state and it’s easier for one or both sides to misunderstand the other.

When someone in crisis insists on text messaging, crisis negotiators will text back but the immediate goal of the communications is to get the person to talk on the phone and open up communications so the incident to be resolved peacefully.

There are nuances in text communications most of us may not think about. A study of the interpretation of messages by 126 college undergraduates was led by Binghamton University psychology professor Celia Klin, reports EurekAlert! The students read a number of communications in the form of text messages and handwritten notes.

  • The sender’s message had a statement followed by an invitation phrased as a question (Dave gave me his extra tickets. Wanna come?).
  • The response was an affirmative one-word response (Okay, Sure, Yeah, Yup).
  • It was found that text messages ending with a period were believed to be less sincere than text messages that lacked punctuation at the end. Texts ending with exclamation marks were seen as more sincere.

Because of the huge communication gaps in texting versus a face to face conversation Kiln states it’s sensible that those who text rely on what’s available including emoticons, words misspelled to mimic speech sounds and punctuation to interpret the communication.

Though you may not negotiate with college students via text messages often the study raises issues that need to be considered no matter who you’re texting. As convenient as texting may be due to its limitations it easy for the other party to misinterpret what you wrote.

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Steve Mehta
Steve Mehta
Steve Mehta has been frequently asked to mediate cases that involve a variety of complex and emotional issues, including elder abuse, medical malpractice, real estate, personal injury, employment, probate, and business matters. Since 1999, he has mediated several thousand cases.


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