STRATEGIES FOR VIRTUAL NEGOTIATIONS AND NAVIGATING PRIVACY/SECUITY RISKS
Posted: October 16, 2020 | News
Between social distancing and COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, businesses are turning to video conferencing services to get down to business, including Zoom, Skype, and Webex, among others. While these services are invaluable by helping you to connect, they also pose new challenges such as 1) negotiating practices through videoconferencing and (2) privacy and data security risks.
Here are some tips to keep in mind before hosting or joining a video conference online.
TIPS REGARDING NEGOTIATION BY VIDEOCONFERENCE
- To Direct Message or Not to Direct Message? Pros and Cons
Most digital platforms have direct messaging capabilities built into them and this can be valuable during virtual negotiations. It’s helpful to have real-time communications with members of your team, while keeping those communications secret from the other side. It makes it possible to discuss comments from the other side in real-time and immediately adjust your negotiating position or strategy as events develop. This is much like you would do when having a whispered conversation with a colleague in a conference room or discuss by stepping outside the room.
However, this messaging technology is not without risks. First, to avoid embarrassment or disaster, make sure the messages are being sent only to your team members. If the other side receives a message that was not intended for them, it could both reveal your side's strategy/bargaining chips and communicate disingenuousness. This may be obvious, but is easier said than done. Sending messages to the other side by mistake happens frequently, when participants are not accustomed to using the platform or aren’t focusing on recipients in the heat of the moment.
Therefore, it’s worth considering using an entirely separate platform to send direct messages among your team. Make sure your team is trained to double-check recipients of any message before the message is distributed.
Furthermore, sending and reading messages in the middle of the discussion can be distracting. If you appear to be inattentive during negotiations, the other party may feel you are not taking the discussion seriously. If so, this can impair your ability to reach a strong deal. It’s best to reserve direct messaging for only the most important real-time communications.
- Give Your Team Clear Roles
It is harder to read body language, or even to "read the room" in a virtual conference than during an in-person meeting. This can make it more difficult to guess who is about to speak and can lead to people talking over each other.
Assigning clear roles to team members can also help reduce how often people are talking at the same time. For example, one person can explain your team's offer, another can answer questions, and another still can open and close the meeting. This tactic is important in any negotiation, but it’s especially true for those held online.
When actively listening to the other party, make sure you leave a pause to allow completion of messages, since very likely you will learn something useful by letting others speak without interruption.
- Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Communication
Non-verbal cues are important even when the parties are not in the same room. Try to position your camera, so the other party can watch you intently listening and taking notes. It is easier to check out during a video call than during an in-person meeting, but do your very best to remain engaged and nod in agreement whenever appropriate. Keep your hand gestures within the frame to enrich the message you are sending.
Remember that the other parties are able to view your face and facial expressions without necessarily letting you know that they are doing so. Be careful with eye-rolls, sighs, grumbling, and other obvious nonverbal cues—unless you really want to negotiate using those tools.
Conversely, watch the non-verbal signals of those on the other team, since we know they will unwittingly give you "tells" or some added context.
- Enter the Meeting at the Same Time
Lastly, attempt to have all of your team members enter the video conference at the same time. This can help reduce awkward small talk and reduce the chance that one of your team members will be left to deal with the other party's team--without any backup or without witnesses.
Many best practices in negotiation remain the same whether the negotiation is held in person or online. However, the above recommendations can improve the quality of your team's virtual negotiations and allow you to be a more effective business dealmaker.
- NAVIGATING PRIVACY/SECURITY RISKS
Video conferencing is not necessarily private and it poses new privacy and security risks. Here are some tips to enhance your security measures.
- Take steps to ensure only invited participants are able to join your meeting
People may call it “zoom bombing,” but it’s a consideration across all kinds of platforms, where uninvited people showing up on video conferences. What can your company do to reduce the risk? Some services allow hosts to password-protect a meeting and others limit access by providing unique ID numbers for each meeting or for each participant. These features may not be enabled by default, so look carefully at what settings are available. If you host recurring meetings, most services allow you to create new passwords or ID numbers for each meeting. That method is more secure than reusing old credentials, so establish that as the policy for your employees.
- Take advantage of other tools to limit access to meetings
Conferencing services may give the host the option to lock the meeting once the expected participants have arrived, preventing others from joining. For the greatest level of control, hosts can enable settings allowing them to approve each participant trying to join. You also may have the ability to remove individual users from the meeting should the need arise.
- Your video camera and microphone may be on by default
Be aware that participants may be able to see and hear you as soon as you join a meeting. If you don’t want to share sound or video, most services allow you to mute yourself or turn off your camera. You may be able to adjust the default settings so your preferences are stored for the next meeting or – depending on the service – you may need to adjust your settings at the beginning of each call.
- Check to see if your video conference is being recorded
Many services allow the host to record the meeting for future reference. The service should display some indicator you’re being recorded – for example, a bright red circle or the word “recording.” But remember, a meeting may be recorded even if these indicators don’t appear. We’ve heard reports of video conferences that have been shared online without participants’ knowledge. The safest strategy is to assume you might be recorded and, if possible, avoid sharing private information through a video conference.
- Be careful before sharing your screen
Most services have functions to allow you to share with the group what’s on your screen – for example, a slide show. But before sharing your screen, make sure you don’t have open documents, browser windows, or other things on your screen you don’t intend for others to see. Some services have options that allow the host to turn off screen sharing or to limit its use to the host.
- Don’t open unexpected video conference invitations or click on links
With the upsurge in video conferencing, malicious actors are sending emails mimicking meeting invitations or other communications from conferencing services. To add authenticity, they may copy the logo and look of familiar names in the business. But, instead of taking you to a conference, these links may contain viruses or install malware on your computer. The safer practice is to tell your staff or your clients in advance, you have a teleconference planned for a certain time and they should expect an invitation with your name. If they get an invitation they didn’t expect, tell them not to open it and definitely don’t click on any links. Here’s another tip to help foil video conference imposters. It the service you’re using requires you to download an app or desktop application, make sure you download it directly from the service’s website or a platform’s app store.
- If confidentiality is crucial, video best conferencing may not be the option
No conferencing service can guarantee the security of your information, so consider alternatives if you need to talk about particularly sensitive topics. Evaluate whether an enterprise service would provide greater security for your company and clients, rather than free services available to the general public. If you’re conferencing remotely with a health care provider, or your lawyer about protected attorney-client privileged matters, ask about dedicated conferencing services that can include more safeguards to keep information private.
- Review key privacy policies ahead of call to understand how your information will be handled
- Update your video conferencing software
As security issues arise, many video conferencing companies are updating their software with patches and fixes. That’s why it’s important for your business to use the latest and improved version, and of course, only accept updates directly from the service’s website.
- Establish preferred video conferencing practices at your business
Your employees are doing their best to maintain productivity during a trying time. But a well-meaning staffer may inadvertently put sensitive data at risk by enabling video conferencing services--that don’t meet your company’s privacy or security standards or that could be out-and-out malware. Share these ten tips with your team, establish company-wide video conferencing dos and don’ts, and emphasize the need to select the more secure options when hosting or joining video conferences.
Author: North, Nash & Abendroth’s Attorney and Partner, Douglas W. Abendroth
 Adapted from the Federal Trade Commission guidelines on videoconferencing.