Make it easy for them!

Scarcely a day passes when we don’t need a coworker to do something—respond to an email, review a report, run an analysis, take a web survey, or offer a status update. So deep is our dependence that we’ve developed a sophisticated repertoire of strategies for eliciting others’ responses. Some of the most popular:

  1. Persuading them: Reviewing the 12 critical reasons why they really need to respond to that email.
  2. Exhorting them: Underlining, emboldening, italicizing, CAPITALIZING, or ALL OF THE ABOVE-ING to drive home the urgency of reviewing that report.
  3. Scaring them: Painting a subtle or not so subtle picture of the dire consequences associated with the absence of that analysis.
  4. Burying them: Reminding them about the web survey so unbelievably often that they take it just to stop the emails.
  5. Going above them: Taking your request for the status update directly to their boss.

These strategies all share the same goal: they seek to highlight the costs of non-compliance. As a result, they often produce the very same outcome: non-compliance.

So here’s a simple but frequently-overlooked alternative: Make it easy for them! In other words, try to make compliance so simple that they almost can’t help themselves. I’m here to tell you that it can make life negotiable. Some examples:

  1. Instead of reviewing the 12 critical reasons they need to respond to the email, copy and paste the email they’re supposed to respond to right below yours, preventing them from having to scroll for the next 5 minutes.
  2. Instead of EXHORTING them to review the report and referring them to the long-deleted message from 3 months ago, reattach it when you remind them.
  3. Instead of scaring them into completing the analysis, ask whether you can answer any questions about it or help clean up the data.
  4. Instead of burying them with reminders about the web survey, move the link they’re supposed to click to the subject line.
  5. Instead of going over their head to get a status update, complete the status update form yourself and ask them to verify whether you got it right.

In addition to coming across as substantially more pleasant, such strategies create channel factors: powerful catalysts of behavior. So the next time you’re thinking of making it harder for another person to say no, consider making it easier for them to say yes.

Negotiation lessons from the safety patrol

I recently volunteered to serve as safety patrolman for my neighborhood. In essence, this involved trolling around the neighborhood at night, making sure no one (i.e., no teenager) was breaking community rules (e.g., loitering at the community beach) or even breaking the law (e.g., defacing said beach).

Since my duties tended to bring the community’s interests (and my own) into conflict with the interests of others (i.e., teenagers), these duties introduced several opportunities to negotiate. Accordingly, the experience reminded me of several important negotiation principles, which I thought I’d share in the hope of making life more negotiable.

  1. Interrupting other peoples’ interests is not particularly pleasant. Who wants to act as the killjoy that spoils some lovestruck teenagers’ lovely evening on the pier, shining a flashlight right in the face of affection? Not me, nor many others I know. In general, I remembered that interests consisting of interrupting other people’s interests are not particularly pleasant to pursue. With that said…
  2. It’s easier when you’re representing others. While less than lovely to give some young lovers (or young tokers) the boot, it was made much easier by the underlying motive: I wasn’t being a killjoy of my own accord. I was doing the community’s bidding, essentially representing the will of several hundred people. In general, I remembered that representing other people often strengthens your resolve. What’s more…
  3. Symbols help. The job of patrolman does have some benefits. I got to drive around with a flashing orange light on my car and wear a flashy orange vest apparently stolen from the Village People. Ridiculous to me and anyone who knew me, these symbols were quite intimidating to teenagers, for whom they legitimized my annoying requests. Perhaps for this reason, the experience also reminded me that…
  4. Most people comply. Thankfully, precious few teenagers protested. Sure, there were the aspiring few negotiators who tried to convince me that they were, for example, “just enjoying the lighting show.” But even these enterprising young negotiators agreed to clear the beach, as per community rules, after a further request. Perhaps they realized that…
  5. It’s good to have an obvious and powerful alternative. Any lip from these teenagers and I had the community and county’s approval to reel in the long arm of the law (i.e., call the police). A strong alternative for me, albeit not one I was particularly eager to engage. A weak alternative for the teenagers, who would find themselves with a rap sheet before even completing their FAFSA.

These examples are probably a bit tongue-in-cheek, but the lessons are real. They highlight, once again, that negotiations truly surround us. And they reminded me—and can remind us all—that negotiating power comes from the surrounding situation at least as much as your prowess.

Don’t let them sell you! Disarming the aggressive salesperson through ratification

Do you remember the last 24-hour period in which no one tried to sell you something? Can’t say that I do. From ever-cheaper utilities to ever-faster Wi-Fi, it seems that everyone is selling. And while slamming the door or ending the call is often the obvious option, uncomfortable instances remain when—thanks to the salesperson’s guile or our own curiosity about the product—we allow the selling process to proceed.

Putting up with pushy salespeople is unpleasant…but negotiable!

Today I’ll describe a simple yet effective antidote to the aggressive seller. Ironically, it’s one of their own secret weapons: a strategy called ratification.

Consider the following situation. Eating your dinner in peace, a friendly neighbor knocks on the door. At least you think it’s a friendly neighbor until you find a slick man with enough cologne to wilt your flowers outside. “Hi there, I’m Ted,” he says before you can slam the door. “Would you like to save 25% on your electricity bill RIGHT NOW?” Caught off guard and still reeling from your last electric bill, you can’t help blurting out a “Maybe.” Well, now Ted’s off to the races. He has plan upon plan, each with illustrative figures and glowing testimonials from beautiful people. He has your current electricity usage in RED, next to a large GREEN number indicating your potential savings. He has a long list of sign-ups—allegedly from your neighbors, though you can’t read their handwriting. Most importantly, he has a pen in his sweaty palm and a dotted line on his clipboard, just waiting for your signature. Oh no, and now he’s smiling at you…

Now there’s no supercomputer on earth that could’ve processed all those figures and statistics in the time that Ted allowed, and you certainly couldn’t either. So you’re not really sure what he’s offering. But the red number DOES look pretty bad, and green number DOES sound pretty good. What should you do?

WAIT. And make Ted wait. Until you understand what you’re signing, there’s no way you should agree to his plan. Does that seem obvious? Maybe so, but decades of research on compliance suggest that relatively few of us will do it. More to the point here, even if we know not to sign, it’s not particularly clear how to resist Ted’s guile. This Ted’s a wily one, and telling him you’ve got to “think about it” probably won’t cut it. He’s likely to inform you that the deal “expires today” or some such gobbleygook, at which point you may be tempted to begrudgingly take the pen. So instead of telling Ted you’ve got to think about it, tell Ted that you have to check with X. Now X could be your spouse, your roommate, your landlord—whomever: 1) might actually have to approve such a deal before you sign it, and 2) is not actually present. Now, Ted may still insist that the deal expires today. But having publicly declared yourself incapable of deciding without a non-present party, you cannot credibly sign, and he cannot credibly protest.

This is a well-documented strategy called ratification. You’ve probably been on the receiving end at a car dealer. “You’ve sold me,” the dealer says, “but I’ve gotta check with the boss in back.” The truth is, it’s a tactic. They don’t usually “check with the boss,” say students with experience in car dealers. They grab a coffee, check the Orioles’ score, or use the bathroom. If they do talk to their boss, it’s probably about the Orioles’ score. Likewise, you don’t have to check with your spouse, your roommate, or your landlord (though in the case of your spouse, you’re strongly advised to). The point is to find an escape valve that Ted’s tactics cannot easily disarm. Only then, without his cologne poisoning your bloodstream, will you have the willpower to say yes if it’s a good deal and no if it’s not. So if you’re actually interested in Ted’s offerings, by all means take his card and check with X. As to Ted’s claim that the deal is expiring today? You can rest assured that if he’s that eager to sell it, it won’t disappear tomorrow (though you may have to ask for it).

Have you ever used this strategy to disarm an aggressive salesperson? Has an aggressive salesperson used it on you?