Choosing communication media for negotiation

From apppm
Jump to: navigation, search

Negotiation is a key part of the role of a project manager which acquires certain negotiation skills. It is a process of communicating back and forth with the goal of making a joint decision, a way of finding a solution to a shared problem that suites all involved parties and hopefully achieve an ideal outcome[1]. Choosing communication media for negotiation is a largely researched field across the last six decades and has proven to have an essential impact on the outcome of a negotiation for certain types of negotiation. In this article, the research field and the applications hereof is viewed from the point of view of a project manager. The choice of media is specified in this article to only focus in integrative negotiation, where communication media are categorised using the media richness theory[2]. These exact choices of negotiation type and categorization of media is proven to be essential in the outcomes of the research papers on the subject as illustrated in the table below. For integrative negotiation with media categorized using the media richness theory and only evaluating success on process variables, socio-emotional parameters and economic parameters, it is concluded that face-to-face communication is always the best medium for negotiation. The application of the presented theory is therefore very straight forward, but of course this very narrow definition of the circumstances, for which the theory is applicable, brings an array of limitations. These limitations are discussed further down in the article.


Big Idea: Richest medium, face-to-face, proves best for integrative negotiation

Media richness theory is a framework first introduced in [Daft, Lengel, 1986][2] that has motivated more than a hundred research papers in media choice in negotiation theory, ranging from theories such as task-media fit hypothesis and the barrier effect to grounding in communication and more, see review [Geiger, 2020][3]. It is a framework that describes the medium’s ability to reproduce the communicated information. This leads to a categorization of media types on a continuous scale of richness. This will further be discussed in the section below.

The aim of this article is to convey the hypothesis first introduced in full in [Purdy et al., 2000][4], that is, choosing the richest medium affects positively organisational integrative negotiation (see below) success measured in process variables and socio-emotional parameters but not in economic outcome variables – on this, media richness has no impact. This hypothesis will henceforth be denoted the Face-to-Face theory[Face-to-Face] in this article. The Face-to-Face theory may assist negotiators in making informed choices on communication media in a negotiation context.

The Face-to-Face theory, its limitations and its opponent theories are later discussed in relation to the review article [Geiger, 2020][3], which summarises and compares 98 articles on the subject from the last six decades. The theory stems from seven of the hypotheses that are described and researched in the article by [Purdy et al., 2020][4] being

  1. a) Media richness increases collaborative bargaining

    b) Media richness reduces competitive bargaining

  2. Media richness increases accurate perception of collaborative efforts
  3. Media richness reduces bargaining time
  4. Media richness increases bargaining profits.
  5. Media richness results in a more equal distribution of profits.
  6. Media richness increases outcome satisfaction.
  7. Richer media increase the desire for future yes negotiation.

All but hypothesis 4. are found supported by Purdy et al. The fourth hypothesis is found not to be affected, neither positively nor negatively. The Face-to-Face theory is justified; in order to have the best possible negotiation outcome, measured on all criteria, the richest communication medium, namely face-to-face communication, must always be desired.

The research on choosing communication media for negotiation has its relevans for project managers for the simple reason that negotiation is a part of the daily life for any project manager. Therefore, knowing how to get the best possible outcome of negotiation situations would influence the work of project managers positively.

Setting the scene

Definition: Integrative negotiation

Based on the empirical results of [Geiger, 2020][3] and [Purdy et al., 2000][4] we limit the setting to integrative negotiation. Moreover, the negotiation success is measured in success criteria ranging from process variables such as negotiation time and behavior and socio-emotional parameters such as trust and negotiation satisfaction but not in economic outcome variables such as joint and individual profit as mentioned earlier and communication media are only categorized by the media richness theory. The content of these constraints is given below. [Purdy et al., 2000] defines negotiation as “a common form of social interaction in which two or more people attempt to make a joint decision about one or more issues in which they are interested.”[4] This definition of negotiation can be categorised as integrative negotiation since it involves multiple parties who work together to “find a solution that satisfies the needs and concerns of each” [[5]. It is essential that the choice of optimal medium will be influenced by the type of negotiation (integrative, distributive, group or pair). This effect is visible in the negotiation criteria[3], which are described below.

Definition: Media Richness Theory

Media Richness Theory refers to the classification of communication media on the basis of their richness, going continuously from high to low media richness. Media richness is defined by [Daft, Lengel, 1986][2] as the potential information carrying-capacity of data and is dependent on four aspects; 1. Feedback capability (fast vs. slow), 2. Communication channel utilized (visual (physical cues/text) vs. audio), 3. Source (personal vs. impersonal) and 4. Language (body vs. words).[3] Since the paper by [Daft, Lengel, 1986] is quite old, there was no such thing as video or conference calls, so this medium is not included in their study. But the remaining media, descending in richness; face-to-face, telephone, written (formal/informal) and numeric are all displayed in figure [x], stating how they are categorized with respect to the aforementioned aspects (1.-4.). [Purdy et al., 2000] includes videoconferencing and places it between face-to-face communication and telephone communication, closely behind face-to-face, in media richness.[4] Furthermore, the paper specifies the definition of media richness to also be dependent on “its ability to handle multiple information cues simultaneously, to facilitate feedback and to enable communicators to establish personal presence beyond the raw content of the message”[4].

Communication cues is one of the essential aspects that differentiates media as well, as greater access to communication cues will improve the chances of accurate perception of the given information in negotiation.[4] The two most prominent categories are visual and aural; visual being hand gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, body movement and physical appearance of the negotiators, and aural being the quality, pitch and volume of the negotiators’ voices, the speed of their talk and the way they use pauses. Another aural aspect is paralanguage such as filler words and non-language vocal sounds (laughter e.g.).[4] The paper by [Purdy et al., 2000] states that up to ninety percent of the meaning in a message is given by facial or vocal communication cues rather than by text, which can be regarded as quite significant.[4]

Definition of negotiation success-criteria

[Purdy et al., 2000] explicitly defines two categories, which are also included in the [Geiger, 2020] paper, of which success are measured on; subjective and objective outcomes, where subjective outcomes are split into outcome satisfaction, behaviour and desire for future negotiation interaction, and objective outcomes are split into negotiation time and profit. It is through these categories only that success is measured in the Face-to-Face theory and application described in this article.


In the research carried out about the quality of integrative negotiation on the three aforementioned criteria, there are the following results:


  • “Greater access to communication cues improves the chances of accurate perceptions through the stages of the negotiation process”[4]
  • “Less rich media make it easier for negotiators to mask the use of distributive bargaining tactics, thereby possibly encouraging competitive or contentious behavior”[4]


  • “Leaner media may have less information and can cause feeling of depenalization and sense of anonymity”[4]
  • “Media rich media allows personal relationships and improve communication quality”[4]


  • “Technologies such as CMC and videoconferencing are often considered efficient because they allow synchronous communication between people in different places. However, these technologies are often inefficient in terms of the amount of information communicated per unit of time”[4]
  • “Media richness directly impacts negotiation time, probably by facilitating an efficient exchange of information”[4]
  • “Media did not impact profit”[4]

Recapitulation of review article

The review article [Geriger, 2020][3] which compiles many articles and their findings, and provides information on which negotiation valuation parameter, negotiation type and media categorization they each use. From this, a table has been made, displaying the articles discussed in [Geiger, 2020], where the articles are divided into different columns based on whether their results showed that [face-to-face communication gave the best negotiation outcome] or that [face-to-face communication did not give the best negotiation outcome] or [the communication medium had no impact on the negotiation outcome]. Furthermore, the articles that use the exact same restrictions as the Face-to-Face theory are marked with green writing to enable the reader to only compare these. When we just look at all of the articles, it looks as if there can be drawn no conclusions on the field, but when we have certain restrictions/constraints, a pattern emerges. We see that a majority of articles using the same resections as the Face-toFace theory actually conclude that face-to-face communication gives the best negotiation outcome on all parameters – supporting the Face-to-Face theory from [Purdy et al., 2020][4].

Caption: Table of articles from [Geiger, 2020][3].
Negotiation valuation parameter Articles favoring richest medium (FTF) Articles favoring other than richest medium Articles favoring none
Time Suh (1999)
Mennecke et al. (2000)
Purdy et al. (2000)
Galin et al. (2007)
Scheck et al. (2008)
Yang (2012)
Wang & Doong (2014)
Smith (1969)
King & Glidewell (1980)
Delaney et al. (1997)Barkhi et al. (1999, 2004)
Behaviour Barkhi et al. (1999, 2004)
McGinn & Keros (2002)
Yuan et al. (2003)
Galin et al. (2007)Stuhlmacher & Citera (2007)
Carnevale et al. (1981)
Carnevale & Isen (1986)
Geiger (2014)
Griffith & Northcraft (1994)
Delaney et al. (1997)
Zornoza et al. (2002)
Yang (2012)
Individual profit Lim (2000)
Joint profit Holingshead et al. (1993)
Arunachalam & Dilla (1992, 1995)
Fry (1995)
Diermeier et al. (2008)
Carnevale & Isen (1986)
Lewis & Fry (1977)
Fry (1995)
Croson (1999)
Citera et al. (2005)
Ang et al. (2013)
Schulz & Pruitt (1978)
King & Glidewell (1980)
Rangswamy & Shell (1997)
Delaney et al. (1997)
Wachter (1999)
Potter & Balthazard (2000)
Purdy et al. (2000)
Damian et al. (2000, 2003)
Naquin & Paulson (2003)
Loewenstein et al. (2005)
Galin et al. (2007)
Scheck et al. (2008)
Calefato et al. (2012)
Satisfaction Holingshead et al. (1993)
Barkhi et al. (1999, 2004)
Wachter (1999)
Jain & Solomon (2000)
Naquin & Paulson (2003)
Wolfe & Murthy (2005)
Carnevale et al. (1981)
Delaney et al. (1997)
Giordano et al. (2007)
Geiger (2014)
Jain & Solomon (2000)
Purdy et al. (2000)
Lim & Yang (2008)
Yang (2012)
Ang et al. (2013)
Wang & Doong (2014)
Trust Arunachalam & Dilla (1992, 1995)
Griffith & Northcraft (1994)
Moore et al. (1999)
Wachter (1999)
Naquin & Paulson (2003)
Citera et al. (2005)
Giordano et al. (2007)
Scheck et al. (2008)
Huang et al. (2008)
Yang (2012)

From the table it becomes quite clear that the articles that tackle integrative negotiation using the media richness theory largely conclude that rich media will give the best negotiation outcome in both objective and subjective criteria just like stated in the beginning of this article. In the cases of negotiation time and behavior, individual profit and trust it is unambiguous that the most media rich medium, face-to-face, has the best outcomes if using this framework. In the cases of joint profit and satisfaction some papers also conclude that it is not dependent on the media richness and even one paper concludes for joint profit that a visual barrier, hence a less rich media, will result in higher joint profit.[3] In general, the joint profit of a negotiation is the most discussed of the success criteria throughout all papers on the subject[3], and papers give different results across different methods and types of negotiation with approximately half-half for and against using the riches available medium, as seen in the table.


Relevance for PRINCE 2

The importance of a systematic approach to media choice in negotiation is evident in the standards used by project managers. In the context of the PRINCE 2 standard, the theory presented in this article can serve as a tool in the initiating process of a project, where contract negotiation is a necessary step for project authorisation[6]. Negotiation is also a key competence for a project manager following the PRINCE 2 standard[6]. Applying successfully the Face-to-Face theory will enable the project manager to have the best circumstances for good negotiation by allowing them to make an informed decision on which medium to use. Also, as stated in the paper by [Purdy et al., 2000] “communication media set the context for communication, influence communication patterns and affect managerial effectiveness”[4]. Especially managerial effectiveness will have significance for a project manager, as it is a criterium of the final project evaluation[6] and also a mere motivation for even using a project management standard[6]. In summation, using an optimal communication medium for negotiation can lead to a more successful project process.

Relevance for PMI

In the PMI-standard, an initiating and ongoing negotiation is also defined as key factors to the success of a project, as “the results delivered by projects depend on what you negotiate” [7]; and therefore the quality of the negotiation must be high in order to have the best outcomes of the project. As a project manager going into a negotiation the most important aspect in the PMI-standard is to be prepared[7], where aspects such as having a project plan, a stakeholder management strategy, a political plan, and a communications plan are proven essential for effective communication. This is where the Face-to-Face theory comes into play. This theory provides a base on which the communication plan can be lain out, when deciding on the media use for communication in the negotiation situations at hand. As stated in the section above, the choice of communication media for negotiation can be crucial for the negotiation success and therefore also the project success. Furthermore, building trust and credibility through communication is a specific suggestion for negotiation in a project environment, which has been proven to be highest for face-to-face communication in integrative negotiation and building on media richness theory in most studies on the subject[3]. This is exactly the statement of the Face-to-Face theory – always to use the most media rich communication medium when negotiating, because it provides the most accurate interpretation of information between negotiators[4] and results in the highest socio-emotional outcomes including trust[4][3].

In both aforementioned standards, the leading and most essential form of negotiation is the integrative negotiation. Both standards guide project managers to seek synergies, win-win situations and alternatives to ensure the satisfaction of all parties involved, henceforth to use integrative negotiation (see definition in section above). The Face-to-Face theory may therefore prove to be useful and appliable for many negotiation situations for project managers in both initiating and ongoing negotiations of a project, since it holds for exactly the integrative negotiation.

Straight forward application

The application of the theory presented in this article is quite straight forward; if you are managing a project with a negotiation aspect of the integrative kind and you want to succeed in having the shortest possible negotiation time, experience the best possible behavior between negotiators to enhance productive negotiation and have the highest possible negotiation satisfaction and desire for future negotiation, you should always chose the richest of the negotiation media; face-to-face.



The theory presented in this article is quite a specific theory to use when choosing media for negotiation with and has therefore its limitations. As stated earlier it is only applicable for integrative negotiation, where media are ranked by their media richness in accordance with media richness theory. It is therefore not applicable in other negotiation situations like group negotiation etc. If we look at results from articles where they have used other negotiation forms or categorised media using other theories than the media richness theory, the results do not show that face-to-face communication will always impact the communication positively[3] (see also the table) – sometimes it will have no importance what medium is chosen and sometimes face-to-face communication will even have a negative effect on the negotiation outcome[3]. Furthermore, the Face-to-Face theory only states that face-to-face communication will always give the best negotiation outcome (if the negotiation follows all restrictions), but not that the quality of the negotiation outcome will descend with the media richness[4]. It therefore does not give an application for situations where face-to-face communication is not an option, which means that the application of this theory may be quite narrow in practice. This for example makes it difficult for project managers in situations where negotiations are many and negotiation partners are far away. This non-linearity was found in [Purdy et al., 2000] due to video conferencing sticking out – the results pointed at video conference negotiation scoring high on competing behaviour and low on perceiving the message correctly[4] compared to less rich media. However, this result may actually reflect the research subjects’ inexperience with the medium more than low quality of the medium[4][3] since video conferencing was not a widely used medium in 2000 compared to today.

An important aspect of the research on communication media in negotiation that the table clearly illustrates, is the importance of which negotiation method that is analyzed and by using which theory. The articles from the table[3] research a large variety of both negotiation types and analysis theories, which makes them difficult to compare directly with each other. What we see is that when the focus is brought only to one negotiation type and one theory, a pattern emerges. It is therefore very important as a project manager to be aware of which kind of negotiation they are involved in and then to decide on which theory to use when analyzing the choice of media.


Even though media choice in negotiation is a well-researched field of project management, there are still many shortcoming on the subject of which have been outlined in the review paper[3]. The paper suggests that personal relationships or similar constructs between negotiators can make up for some of the missing richness in a medium and that the negotiators’ familiarity with the media might do the same[3]. The characteristics of the users may very well also be a factor which is not taken into account in the theories[3] – it may be so that tech-pros will have a better negotiation outcome by using more technology heavy, and therefore less rich, media than face-to-face, which has not been studied in any of the included references from this article. Also people’s attitude towards certain media may prove a strength or a weakness in regards to the outcomes of a negotiation[3]. The paper also addresses the timespan of which the results are collected over. Across these six decades, communication media, and our relationship with them, have changed drastically (especially the past year, 2020, where large parts of the world have been forced to use less rich media than face-to-face), which may also in the end give a different picture than presented by the Face-to-Face theory based on the hypotheses presented in 2000[4].

Additionally, there are only a quite narrow span of parameters on which the success of the negotiation is measured in the Face-to-Face theory, which may also very well lead to conclusions being drawn, that may not entirely show the full picture.

Finally, the standards of both PMI and PRINCE 2 are not explicitly stating anything about the importance of media choice in communication, but merely the fact that good communication is key in negotiation. This may be due to the fact that this area is quite narrow, and therefore not something that belongs in a standards as such or may be due to the fact that it is a research field that is still not well enough established to be welcomed to the standards of project management.

Annotated bibliography

In this section, papers in the research area described in this article that may be of interest for the reader to further investigate are presented. All are closely connected to the topic of choosing media for negotiation, but vary in their focus and analysis methods/theories.

Citera, M., Beauregard, R., & Mitsuya, T. (2005). An experimental study of credibility in E-negotiations. Psychology and Marketing, 22(2), 163–179.

  • This paper researches the credibility of negotiators in face-to-face mediated negotiation compared to computer mediated communication in an integrative bargaining setting. It found that the perception of negotiators’ credibility was deemed lower in computer mediated negotiation. This article provides a new dimension to the success-assessment of negotiation compared to the criteria provided in the Wikipedia-article.

Daft RL, Lengel RH (1986) Organization information requirements, media richness, and structural design. Manag Sci 32:554–571

  • This article is the original paper on media richness theory which has lain out the ground stones for all further research on the subject.

Herlea Damian, D. E., Eberlein, A., Shaw, M. L. G., & Gaines, B. R. (2000). Using different communication media in requirements negotiation. Ieee Software, 17(3), 28–36.

  • The article concludes that in group negotiation, face-to-face communication performs no better than video conferencing and computer support. This again shows how important the setting which is investigated is crucial for the outcomes of the research.

Mennecke, B. E., Valacich, J. S., & Wheeler, B. C. (2000). The Effects of Media and Task on User Performance: A Test of the Task-Media Fit Hypothesis. Group Decision and Negotiation, 9(6), 507–529.

  • This article examines the task-media fit hypothesis which is an extension of the media richness theory described in this article. It predicts the objective performance of media and acts to mediate task performance. The paper proves mixed support for the task-media fit hypothesis. This paper provides a view on the evolution of the media richness theory and thereby gives another perspective on the choice of media in negotiation.

Potter, R. E., & Balthazard, P. A. (2000). Supporting integrative negotiation via computer mediated communication technologies: An empirical example with geographically dispersed Chinese and American negotiators. Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 12(4), 7–32.

  • This paper research negotiation between two different cultures (American and Chinese) and the negotiation outcomes of different kinds of computer mediated negotiations. The results showed higher joint profit for one group over the other and lower joint profit for both groups compared to similar groups in previous studies who negotiated face-to-face. It also shows that the different groups preferred communication media in reverse order. This study points to culture being a very important aspect when choosing media in negotiation – an aspect not addressed in the Wikipedia article.

Yuan, Y., Head, M., & Du, M. (2003). The Effects of Multimedia Communication on Web-Based Negotiation. Group Decision and Negotiation, 12(2), 89–109.

  • This article provides research on the effects of multimedia on remote negotiation and investigates the impacts of communication in an online negotiation. It studies the impact of different multimedia combinations influence negotiation results. The study shows that negotiations with audio and text or video, audio and text are preferred to text alone, but that the addition of video will distract negotiators from their negotiation task. It also looks at negotiation-success criteria like socio-emotional success and negotiation satisfaction in relation to their results. The article provides a deeper and more detailed perspective on computer mediated negotiation and seeks a deeper understanding on the variations within the media.


  1. Englund, Randall L. Negotiating for success are you prepared?, Accessed 13-02-2021.[1]
  2. Daft RL, Lengel RH (1986) Organization information requirements, media richness, and structural design. Manag Sci 32:554–571. [2]
  3. Geiger, Ingmar. “From Letter to Twitter: A Systematic Review of Communication Media in Negotiation.” Group Decision and Negotiation, vol. 29, no. 2, Springer, 2020, pp. 207–50, doi:10.1007/s10726-020-09662-6. [3]
  4. Purdy, Jill M., and Pete Nye. “The Impact of Communication Media on Negotiation Outcomes.” International Journal of Conflict Management, vol. 11, no. 2, Center for Advanced Studies in Management, 2000, pp. 162–87, doi:10.1108/eb022839. [4]
  5. Indeed, Career Guide: Integrative Negotiation: Definition, Tips and Examples, [5]
  6. AXELOS. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2017 Edition, The Stationery Office Ltd, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central, Created from dtudk on 2021-02-24 04:27:55. [6]
  7. Englund, R. L. (2010). Negotiating for success: are you prepared? Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2010—EMEA, Milan, Italy. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute. [7]


[Face-to-Face] - This is not a well-established theory in itself but just a term given to sum up the results of the hypotheses from Purdy et al.[4]

Cite error: <ref> tags exist, but no <references/> tag was found
Personal tools