A negotiator’s thoughts on Zoom meetings


Earlier this week I was involved in an interesting webinar about leadership in isolation. Toward the end, there were a few comments about how exhausting Zoom meetings can be with the higher levels of concentration and responsiveness that are required.

Being on Zoom with ten or twelve people is a vastly different experience to being in a conference room with the same number. At a physical meeting with ten people around a board table, it’s impossible to be looking at everyone at once. But on Zoom, we are, in effect, sitting opposite not just one or two people but everybody.

People are also more conscious of themselves on Zoom. In gallery view, your own face is one of the many staring back at you. I have never looked at my Zoom reflection to adjust my hair or my posture, but you probably have (kidding, I find myself sneaking a few too many little glances at myself!).

Now, if you have been reading my posts for a while, you’ll know that I see most things through the lens of negotiation. My thoughts about Zoom meetings are no different.

When preparing for a negotiation, choosing where you will sit and where you’d like the other party to sit are important considerations:

  • If you want to give the perception of collaboration and engage the other party in designing the solution, sit side by side.
  • If you want open, face-to-face conversation without appearing combative, choose to sit at the end of the table at right-angles.
  • If you want opportunities to intimidate the other party or to give the appearance that the negotiation is a confrontation, sit opposite the other party.

Say what? Sitting opposite someone can be intimidating? On Zoom, this is our only choice, and hence why Zoom meeting can feel more confronting than physical ones.

Eye-contact is also relevant. In a negotiation, you need to build rapport, for which the right amount of eye-contact is important. But if you take it too far, prolonged eye contact appears highly competitive if not malevolent. And on Zoom, what are we doing? We are potentially holding eye-contact with multiple people for extended periods.

Finally, let’s consider the habit you all have (oh yes, and me too) of checking yourself out. In a negotiation, being conscious of your image is important. Research shows that self-confidence delivers results; when we feel good, we are much more likely to perform better in a negotiation.

So what are we to do? Here are some “negotiation-lens” tips for handling Zoom meetings:

  • Sometimes a phone call is more appropriate. When you are trying to dilute confrontation, don’t use video.
  • To remove the “all eyes on me” feeling and replicate a physical meeting, use speaker view or spotlighting (if you are the host) more often than gallery view.
  • If you are distracted too much by your own image, choose the “hide myself” setting.
  • If you find the image of yourself a helpful reminder to sit up straight or smile nicely, don’t hide yourself and consider using the sneaky “touch up my appearance” function.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.