“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
“Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”
In a famous study by Ellen Langer and others appearing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, sixty percent of the persons in line complied with the first request. Ninety-four percent complied with the second request. Why? The second request contained the magic word “because” which triggered giving the reason.
Best-selling author, Nancy Duarte, says that most do a good job of explaining what they want. But they are pretty inept at explaining the “why.”
For example, “Could you complete this environmental audit, using the attached spreadsheet, by Friday?” The “what” is clear (environmental audit) and the “how” is apparent (attached spreadsheet). But the “why” is missing.
When asked about the missing “why”, the manager said, “The reason is obvious. Failure to document could result in consequences. The other party may or may not have been aware of the manager’s assumption.
Increase your persuasion by ensuring that the word “because” is part of the request. For example, “Could you complete this environmental audit, using the attached spreadsheet, by Friday because we need the documentation to prove compliance to the auditors?”
When I’ve asked managers how they make important decisions, I get responses like:
“Who can say. We talk about an issue and after a lot of back-and-forth propositions and challenges, an option sometimes emerges.”
“We discuss and discuss. We may not even agree on the problem.”
“It’s like trying to get a pro golfer to explain how he hits a ball so far. We just do it.”
Too often, leaders plunge into discussions that just keep churning and churning until there is a brewing chaos. Amidst doubt and confusion members adjourn without a clear direction. Or worse, members agree to a watered-down option for which there is only lukewarm support.
To avoid endless delays or high-risk moon shots, present an issue and discuss until key players agree on the exact problem. Set a deadline for making the decision. Create a climate that encourages vigorous debate of multiple options. View differing opinions as helpful. Take no votes or polls.
Strive for an option that most all can, at least to some extent, support. If no such option emerges, the leader makes the call. Close by saying, “This is what we are going to do and I need everyone’s commitment.”
After reaching an agreement on responsibilities and salary, the vice president (VP) said to a general manager (GM) candidate, “Well, I think we understand each other, but I’ll need to check this out with the president.”
A few days later the VP said to the candidate, “The president is OK with most of our agreement but wants you to be responsible for warranty settlements. He also thought that we were about five percent too high on the salary.”
This is an example of a negotiation “dirty trick.” The GM candidate negotiated in good faith with the VP believing that the VP had decision-making authority.
The candidate faces the following options: (1) accept the revised offer, (2) reject the offer, or (3) continue negotiating.
Option 1 is too soft. Option 2 is too hard. Option 3, continue negotiating, might include such responses as:
“You gave me the impression this was your decision. Now, you say you did not have the authority? How do you expect me to accept that? Here are some other options we could look at . . .”
The intent is for the GM to identify the VP’s behavior and continue seeking options that are reasonable.