The danger of WE in negotiation

A rule of the Camp system is to never make assumptions. Actually, it instructs us to almost never make assumptions. When creating a checklist Camp negotiators will make some assumptions about baggage that our adversary has with us, so that we raise it when appropriate and find out if it is indeed a problem and solve it if necessary. But otherwise, the Camp rule is not to make assumptions.

The word we often has a lot of assumptions embedded in it. If I say to someone standing next to me, “We are standing here”, I am not making an assumption. I can verify it, so it is not an assumption. But if I say to that same person, “We are better off sitting down”, I am making an assumption that it is better for them to sit down. It seems harmless enough to insert we, but it really is no different than saying to them, “You are better off sitting down”. The assumption made is more obvious when you use you than when you use we, but it is there nonetheless.

Using precise language, and asking negotiation team members and adversaries to use precise language, helps eliminate dangerous assumptions.

For example, asking a client after they sit down in your office, “Why are we here?” muddies the waters. They will have to guess why you are there in addition to sorting through their own reasons for being there. But if you ask “Why are you here today?, you have framed an opportunity for them to share something that is actually within their grasp. It is a very important to your negotiation success to pay attention to these details.

Look at some examples of different levels of precision in language: “What problems are you facing?” vs. ‘What problems are you facing in your business? Vs. What marketing problems are you facing in your business?”

The habit of being precise in language is well worth forming. People often wonder what holds them back in their negotiations and personal interactions, and very often poor word choices are what create the sticking points. My good intentions mean little when they don’t reflect the world of my respected opponent and what they are able to see. The road to negotiation hell is paved with these good intentions. I tread most effectively in the world of my adversary with careful attention to my word selection, not just by having faith in what I intended my words to mean. Words that paint the clearest pictures in the world of the adversary are going to be most safe and effective. It starts by recognizing that you and I will be easier to define and more beneficial to focus on than we can ever be.

Please let me know what you think of this post and add your comments below. Thanks!

William Chase


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