You’ll be more likely to get it…
You are out for a drink and the bartender asks you – “What would you like?” to which you reply “Guess!”. “Alright then” he says, “How about a red wine?”. You shake your head to this and say “No, that’s not what I want. Guess again.” He surveys the shelf behind him and says, “Perhaps you’d like a vodka and soda?”. Another shake of the head as you reply with “Sorry I don’t like vodka, try again.” By now the bartender is justifiably irritated and through gritted teeth he tells you “I have other customers I need to serve, you look like someone who would enjoy a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc so I’ll pour you one of those. Enjoy your night.”
This is a silly analogy to what I observe every week in most negotiations. Often there is a lack of specific disclosure as to what it is that the party wants or they take a long time to bring this information forward.
For example, announcing “We want a better price” which will perhaps lead to a slight discount. However, a more specific proposal would be: “If we receive a 14% discount we can agree to the deal.” By being specific this will likely lead to a more substantial discount. I also like the use of the odd number as it adds some inherent credibility.
I believe people are often vague with what they want for 3 different reasons or sometimes even a mixture of the 3:
- Lack of preparation. A critical step to reaching a better deal is thorough preparation. In most cases, I spend more time preparing then I actually do at the table. We have a simple prep process and one of the steps involved is to clearly define the key objectives of what a good deal looks like and also when it would not be a good deal. It’s very specific. This document gives you an optimistic outlook for the negotiation and subsequently more confidence to be specific in your asks.
- Fear. I think sometimes people are afraid to disclose too much out of fear that they may be punished for revealing it. The reality is that if you don’t signal your priorities and be specific, it is unlikely that the other party will correctly guess what you want, as per my silly drink analogy above.
- The belief that being vague or dribbling information slowly will work for them. I often have people tell me that they prefer to wait to hear what the other party will offer first. This is because they believe it could be even better than their own opening position. In my experience this is not the case - unless you are negotiating with Santa Claus.
If you have kids you know they are specific in what they want, often get it and quickly at that. A page we can take from their book.
I hope this has been a valuable read. And now I have a specific ask of you - I’d love to hear your thoughts or other reasons you believe lead to people being vague in what they are asking for. Or can you think of an instance where it would work for you to be vague? Look forward to hearing from you!