Make these changes in virtual negotiations according to neuroscience

A screen shot of four people interacting in a pleasant negotiation

Technology is growing at an exponential rate and has drastically changed the way we do business today. Today with virtual arbitrations, mediations, negotiations, and facilitations this has caused significant changes in the way we do business. Face to face in person negotiations offer challenges. Neuroscientists have looked at how we work and behave in our ever-changing virtual environment. Here are some key insights on what is and is not working as well recommendations for you going forward. With the ever-expanding virtual world to resolve differences this article offers you insights to enhance your probability of success.




With any negotiation developing a connecting relationship, listening actively, and educating judiciously are key to negotiating closure. These are all key concepts of The Collaboration Effect. So, how do you build trust? Historically, trust is built by researching the other party ahead of time, looking for ways to connect based on similar interests, and developing open lines of communication. By sharing you are demonstrating openness, and you are encouraging the other party to share with you. Sharing information with each other may allow you to build a better relationship. It is all about being authentic and straightforward operating with integrity and honesty. Be accepting of the other party. Do what you say you are going to do. Be respectful and sensitive to the other party’s needs.  

Current Research

What about in the virtual world? Neuroscientists have looked at this question and determined this is even harder in a virtual world. Professor Shalini Misra at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in her article on “The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices” found that simply the presence of a visible iPhone caused the quality of interactions to deteriorate.

Her further study suggests that technology reduces our ability to empathize and influence how much we trust others.

Professor Noam Ebner from Creighton University stresses that “trust is literally under attack”. On the one hand he indicates that traditional news sources being attacked by President Trump as “fake news” have resulted in traditional institutions being trusted at an all-time low. On the other hand, trust with peers and with others we are unfamiliar with tends to be higher. We might be more prone to trust someone we do not know, and others that we do know. This provides an opportunity. Others want to be able to trust. You want to be able to trust. Knowing this do all you can to encourage trust.

Trust in a virtual world

For a virtual negotiation, it is even more important to do your homework ahead of time on the other party. Look for ways to relate to the other party. In this way you can be prepared during the interaction to interject elements on a personal level that may provide an opportunity to build trust throughout the process. Look for ways to relate to one another. Avoid distractions and really focus on the other party. Make the other party your center of attention.




Many people believe they can multitask. In reality no one multitasks. Our brains only handle one thing at a time. It is possible that some people move more quickly from task to task than others, but still, they are only focusing on one thing at a time. With too many things going on, you can overload yourself and stress yourself out. With that in mind

focusing on one thing at a time allows for better concentration.

With better concentration on a particular activity, quality and quantity are enhanced. What does this have to do with empathy and virtual negotiations? With other distractions from other alternatives while online in a virtual negotiation (phone text, checking email, working on another activity, interruptions in the room from others or pets, etc.) a party may not be as focused. In an in-person negotiation everyone can see what else may be distracting you. In a virtual session it may not be as obvious. With that in mind you or they may be tempted to think and work on other distractions. This can lesson both attention and empathy.

In today’s virtual world there is a great propensity to skim texts rather than read texts. You tend not read the full message. You tend to skim and skip when reading sources of information. By doing so there is a propensity to not concentrate as hard on the message.

In virtual negotiations there tends to be less active listening. This can cause major elements to be missed or misunderstood.

 It is possible to miss elements relating to tone facial expressions, and body language. With that the natural tendency is to be less empathetic. Empathy is one of the key elements of listening. By not being empathetic listening is impaired.


Attention span


The mere presence of technology in its many forms from social media, virtual negotiations, entertainment, immediate feedback expectations in texts, entertainment (snapchat, TicTok, Facebook, etc.), has resulted in shorter attention spans. Changes in technology are exacerbating the situation. This is an increasing concern with younger people.

The typical millennial picks up the phone 150 times a day. Attention spans have reduced from 12 minutes to 5 minutes.

People who are online over 5 hours a day have a hard time remembering names. The technology fallout is resulting in less memory, less attention span, and less sleep. Given this information what can you do?


Challenges in negotiations


The focus in an arbitration, mediation, negotiation, or facilitation must be the event.

An upfront agreement by participants to silence phones, close laptops, and focus on the activity before you are the key. Ask participants to pull a pad of paper and a pen for taking notes. Data can be researched later.

The focus should be on the human interaction in the virtual setting. It is more important than ever. By eliminating other distractions this allows for the development of additional understanding.

Do research ahead of time. Concentrate on working towards a connecting relationship. This can only help. Listen actively by focusing on the other party and being interested. Check your assumptions. Be curious about the other party. Suspend judgment. All these activities enhance the probability of success. Pay attention to words of course, but more importantly pay attention to tone, facial expression, and body language. Stay focused on the problem under discussion. Be empathetic to the other party. Work to understand underlying interests. With appropriate questioning and digging it may be possible to discover and address underlying interests. This can lead to a more positive outcome.




Our brains are changing in our virtual environment. Knowing the key elements presented here, some ideas are being offered to help you when you are involved in virtual interactions of any kind. These are being offered to set you up for success. Try out the ideas presented here and see if they may help you in the future. I welcome your feedback.

About the author

Mike is a mediator, a professional speaker, and an author. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]