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Communication Deficit Disorder, Part I


Robert Menard, Certified Purchasing Professional, Certified Professional Purchasing Consultant

Robert Menard, Certified Purchasing Professional, Certified Professional Purchasing Consultant

Editor’s note: This is Part I of a two Part series on communication troubles afflicting negotiation.  Click here for Part II

 What do these statements have in common? 

  • “You don’t listen to me.” 
  • “Do you know what I mean?” 
  • “I’m sorry, but…”

The speaker probably meant one thing while the listener heard another.  We could call this common affliction Communication Deficit Disorder

To make this point in training sessions, I will start speaking French without warning.  The audience’s mood degenerates from curiosity, to amusement, to annoyanceThe moral of the story is clear.  We must communicate with the buyer in the language and style to which he is accustomed. 

No one is immune

Suppose we carelessly utter to the prospect, “Do you know what I mean?”  The message she just heard from us was, “How could you possibly disagree?  It was expressed so eloquently, and with such impeccable logic that only an intellectual pygmy would not agree”.  A more respectful offering is, “I want to be sure that I express this thought properly; so may I clarify?”

How about when the buyer poses the same question to us?  Seize the opportunity to clarify the exchange of ideas by responding this way.  Look into the buyer’s eyes and state inquisitively, “No, I do not quite understand.  Could you tell me more?”  Doing so saves us from making unwarranted assumptions that could derail the interchange.  This may also persuade the customer to state its position in a way that might reveal critical motivations.   

 Addressing the motivation gets us to agreement far quicker than battling the position.  For instance, if someone says that a position is non-negotiable, do not agree nor challenge.  Instead, say something positive like, “I want to be sure that I understand your position because this seems to be important and I want to respect that.”  You then make the prospect comfortable enough to expound upon its defensive posture. 

Always look past the position and into the motivation
Click for Bob's 3 CD set

Click for Bob's 3 CD set

 You may then probe the underlying motivation and deal with it.  For example, suppose the prospect says, “We can discuss anything but price.  That is non-negotiable”.  The position is fixed price, but what is the motivation?  Do budget constraints make spreading out the order over time an acceptable option?  Can we substitute a solution that fits in the price range?  The buyer sees this communicative approach as customer concern and not simply overcoming objections.

When ‘I’ is better than ‘you’

Two short words make all the difference in relationships.  They are “I” and “you”.  Consider the impact of these two equivalent statements.  The “I” statement says, “If I understand your position, a lease with purchase option would be preferable to you.  Do I have that right?” The “you” statement verbalizes the same message, but in a gruff tone.  “You mean to tell me that you would rather lease than buy”.  The “you” statement points the accusatory finger and backs the other party into a defensive foxhole position.  The “I” statement off loads the onus of misunderstanding onto our shoulders and asks for clarification.

Part II has more.

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