Getting them out the door on time: How to make the first offer

If you’re anything like me, you have a need (even a compulsion) to be on time. But if you’re uncannily like me, you’re frequently frustrated by a friend or family member who, when accompanying you to your appointments, sees no particular difference between 10:30 and 11:00. The nerve!

How can you possibly convince them to get out the door on time? With the right strategy, it’s negotiable.

In this post, I’ll talk about a simple technique for departing on schedule. And when I say simple, I mean REALLY simple. Let me anticipate the possible critiques by being clear: this post contains a distinct lack of rocket science; indeed, you might already use the technique I’ll describe. So why describe it at all? Because it highlights a principle you must understand to succeed in any negotiation, including this one: HOW to make the first offer.

You may recall that a previous post on toddlers advised you to make the first offer. That’s all fine and well until you go about implementing this advice, at which point you’ll find that you still need to know what to say. What kind of offer should you make (first)?

To discuss this issue, in general and in the context of lateness, imagine that you have an important meeting at 11:00 am. You hope to leave home at 10:30, but you absolutely NEED to leave by 10:45. Accompanying you to this important meeting is a perennially-late family member; let’s call him Joe. Looking up from his dilly-dallying around 10:00, Joe asks you what time you want to leave. This is a golden opportunity to make the first offer! But what time to say? Please pick your favorite:

  • 10:15
  • 10:30
  • No later than 10:45

Let’s meander to the best answer by thinking about this situation in the terms already discussed on this blog. Your goal (target) is to leave at 10:30; your bottom line (reservation price) is 10:45. What happens if you ask Joe to be ready no later than 10:45? Dilly-dallying as he still is at 10:00, and perennially-late as you know him to be, you’ll be lucky to get out the door by 11:00. So don’t make a first offer that’s equivalent to your bottom line.

But what about your goal – what if you ask Joe to be ready at 10:30? Well, that’s better than stating your bottom line, but what time will Joe actually be ready? If he sticks to his bad habits, chances are he will show up at the front door about 10:45, allowing you to get out said door at the VERY last moment you can. Unless you like the feeling of mounting anxiety, mixed with simmering irritation, 10:30’s not a very good option either.

So the best answer is probably 10:15 – a number slightly more aggressive than your goal. What happens if you say 10:15? Joe hopefully drops his dilly-dallying right away and finds his way upstairs to get ready, then out the door by 10:30. Voila! You’ve achieved your goal of 10:30.

But won’t Joe get offended by such an aggressive first offer? Well, if you read the post on negotiating with the cable company, you know that targets are optimistic numbers, not ridiculous numbers. In other words, when you set a target (e.g., 10:30), you pick a number that is achievable in addition to hopeful. Thus, when Joe hears 10:15, he may look at you with surprise. But he’s unlikely to glare at you in anger because he knows that 10:15 is in the same zip code as the reasonable 10:30.

So the general principle is this: When you make a first offer, and make it you often should, don’t choose a number that’s equivalent to your reservation price or goal. Choose a number that’s slightly more aggressive than your goal, which is hopeful but achievable. By doing so, you leave yourself room to actually reach your goal. Without doing so, your goal will almost certainly go unmet.

Do you have a perennially-late friend or family member? Have you tried this technique?