Messages conveying unexpected changes and those offering compromises or engaging in other kinds of negotiations are typically more complex than any of the messages covered in the previous sections. Neither a positive message that contains a negative element nor a negative message that contains some persuasive material, for example, would be a negotiation or a compromise. Compare the following examples:
Positive message: Yes, your policy covers your loss, Mr. Smith, and well be glad to process your claim as soon as you complete the highlighted sections on the enclosed form. [The readers insurance is good, but his claim cant be processed until he provides information he failed to provide the first time.]
Negative message: Because the January premium was not paid, your policy was not in effect at the time of your loss, Mr. Smith. [The reader was not covered for the loss, and no possibility for compromise exists.]
Compromise: Your insurance covers the loss of your car, Mr. Smith, but not the loss of your garage. [The readers insurance covers only part of his loss.]
If your organization has decided to restructure, automate certain procedures, and eliminate some jobs as a result, how do you communicate that to the workforce as a whole and, in particular, to those people whose jobs are being cut? These are only a few of the kinds of complex messages requiring the strategies of negotiation.
Even though such messages are complex, all the basic rules still apply. Establish and emphasize priorities. Structure your message for overall effectiveness. Use positive tone and you-attitude throughout. In addition, learn all you can about your readers current beliefs and motivations, so that you can pace his or her expectations appropriately, and be prepared to achieve a negotiated solution.
Use the following structure:
The best way to establish rapport in a complex message is to begin by stating a reader benefit. How will your message benefit the reader? When you dont have a specific reader benefit to offer, begin with something to which the reader will respond favorably that also places the message in its appropriate communication context. A statement of agreement or the acknowledgment of a common problem can help establish rapport.
- Youre right to expect quality when you order an ABC product.
- Your recent order for a dozen Model B computers shows that you have been satisfied with XYZ products in the past.
- Over the past two years, our customer complaints have increased by more than 600 percent.
As is often the case, the explanation or reasons provide the lead to the possible solutions to the problem that will be presented in the section on blending outcomes. When the reader will resent or resist your suggested solution, be especially careful with your explanation. When the reader has no options (such as an organizational change that does not allow for choice), interweave reader benefits along with the reasons for the change.
- For your ABC to work properly, it needs to be used with the 12 volt, 60 milliwatt transformer that came with it. The transformer you returned with your ABC will deliver only 30 milliwatts, which is insufficient power to run the ABC.
- Because the Model B was constructed around the Apocalypse 666 computer chip, which has been discontinued by the manufacturer, we have replaced both Model B and Model A with designs based on the Millennium 1000 chip. Our retailers have reported excellent sales with Model Cs and Model Ds based on this new chip.
- Part of the problem is the high turn-over rate among our sales staff. Many of our sales clerks are students at Midwestern University, and they work too few hours and remain in our employ too short a time for them to become fully trained.
Complex messages almost always require the reader to make a decision or change a behavior. The benefits of deciding or behaving in the way you would prefer need to be clear. In addition to saying what you want to change or what the reader must do, tell the reader why the action is necessary. When the reader has legitimate options, be sure to say so. If you fail to mention options of which your reader will doubtless be aware, he or she will feel manipulated.
Be absolutely sure, however, to avoid explicit references to take-it-or-leave-it options (for example, accept a change or be fired). When the change is both unpleasant and unavoidable, find and emphasize as many benefits as you can.
- We have replaced the transformer with one that delivers the required power and have tested your ABC thoroughly. It is working perfectly and will continue to do so for many years to come. While we would be glad to refund your money as you requested, we believe that you will want your ABC back now that you understand the cause of the problem.
- The new Models C and D offer nearly twice the performance for about the same price as the Models A and B. The enclosed specification sheets show you how the computers compare to each other and to the discontinued Models A and B.
- To retain our loyal customer base and reduce the number of complaints we receive about our service, we should hire more full-time sales clerks, require that part-time clerks work a minimum of 20 hours a week, provide on-going communication and customer service training for all our sales staff, and add a commission incentive on all floor sales.
Because negotiations and compromises typically require the reader to make a decision or change a behavior, make sure that reader knows exactly what he or she needs to do. Also, make the action seem as easy as possible by providing clear instructions, blank forms, a toll-free telephone number, and other appropriate aids to easy action.
When you can, connect the action to a reader benefit to help motivate the reader to take the action you are recommending. When your reader has legitimate options, make sure that those options are clear even though you may choose to emphasize the option you prefer.
- To let us know whether you prefer the refund or would like to have your ABC back, please call me at 800/555-5555.
- To order either the Model C or D or a combination of the two new models, use the enclosed wholesale price list to calculate the difference in cost between the $11,652 you sent for the Model Bs and the wholesale cost of the computers you are ordering, and enclose your check along with a new order form.
- After youve had a chance to review the attached complaints and to review the estimated cost of lost sales, please let me know when we could meet to discuss possible courses of action.
Priorities in Negotiations
Previous materials have considered communication situations in which the reader might welcome, resent, or resist the message. Not all communication situations fall neatly into one of these categories, however. Some fall into more than one category at the same time. Many business communication situationsand, indeed, many situations in all our relationshipsrequire negotiation and compromise.
A message to which a readers response is likely to be mixed presents a special hazard for the business communicator because people have a propensity for perceiving what they want to perceive. Thus, in a message presenting a compromise, the reader is likely to ignore that aspect of the message that might create resentment or resistance and focus only on that part with which he or she agrees.
Many messages of this type involve some kind of unexpected change. Even though the change may benefit the reader, he or she is likely to resent or resist the change simply because change is difficultonce established, habits are hard to break. For this reason, it is important to emphasize the reader-benefits associated with the change, being sure to recognize that the benefits for dealers may not be identical with those for consumers. When a dealer will earn more profit from handling a new, higher-priced product, for example, be sure to calculate the profits and be explicit about other benefits of the new product.
In planning messages of this variety, begin by asking yourself the following questions:
- How will the reader feel about the change I am suggesting? How will the change affect his or her business? How will the change affect the readers self-image?
- Is the readers sense of well-being more important to me than the business objective that might be achieved by the change?
- When the readers sense of well-being is more important than my business objective, what can I offer that will preserve that sense of well-being while making the desired change more attractive?
- When the business purpose is more important than the readers sense of well-being, what can I say to help him or her save face while accepting the required change?
Counterproposals have two objectives: First, you want to show the reader that his or her original proposal is not fully acceptable, and, second, you want to persuade the reader to accept your counterproposal. Your reader is likely to resent (or be disappointed by) the first objective and resist the second. When you present your counterproposal in a logical, positive way, however, the reader may be willing to overlook the negative aspect and accept the compromise.
Any time you present a counterproposal, you need to decide which is more important to you, the relationship you have with the reader or the business objective you wish to achieve: Are you willing to give up the relationship if the reader refuses to accept your counterproposal? The same communication situation can be handled in two ways, placing emphasis on the business objective or emphasizing the relationship. The advantage of the former approach is a greater chance of achieving the business objective. The disadvantage is the greater chance of losing the relationship.
When the business objective is more important than the relationship, use the following structure:
- Pace: Because the reader will be disappointed that you are refusing the original request, find some aspect of the situation with which you can agree.
- Lead: Provide your reasons for not being able to accept the readers proposal or request. Use your reasons and your counterproposal to imply the refusal. Present your counterproposal in a logical, reasonable way. Avoid words and phrases that sound condescending or insincere, such as the following:
- We are willing to grant you. . . .
- We can permit you to. . . .
- We can only offer. . . .
- The best we can do in this case. . . .
Blend outcomes: Because you may not have a second chance to offer a different compromise should your reader reject this one, be sure to mention all the benefits associated with your counterproposal.
Motivate: When your reader has options, make sure that you acknowledge them. Failure to acknowledge legitimate options will only create resentment. You want your reader to choose the option you suggest, but it must be the readers choice. Take no action without your readers permission.
When the relationship is more important than the business objective, use the following structure:
- Pace: Approve the readers request or agree to the proposal. Offer the reader everything he or she has requested or proposed. Avoid apologies and admissions of error.
- Lead: Even though your opening shows a willingness to let the reader have his or her way, your explanation should make clear that you believe your counterproposal is more reasonable, logical, and equitable than the readers request or proposal.
- Blend outcomes: Explain all the reader benefits associated with your counterproposal.
- Motivate: While you need to make clear that the choice is the readers, encourage him or her to accept the counter proposal.
Sample 40 and Sample 41 illustrate differences in letters taking these two approaches to a customers request for a refund on a product. Neither of these approaches is inherently superior to the other, and either would work with certain readers. Which approach you would use would depend on a combination of product or service and organizational philosophy.
Because people often resist change even when that change may prove beneficial for them in the long run, messages announcing change are often difficult to write. How much persuasive information needs to be included in these messages depends on how resentful the reader will feel about the change, how much resistance your message will encounter, and how important your relationship with the reader is to you.
Unlike situations in which you have a compromise to offer, situations in which no compromise is possible give the reader only an all-or-nothing option: If he or she wants to continue doing business with youto maintain the relationshiphe or she will need to do things your way. If he or she is not willing to do that, the only option is to go elsewhere.
Managers of an organization might, for example, decide to install a new computer system. Employeesand customerswould have to adapt to the new system or go elsewhere. Messages to communicate the decision and to explain the new system to employees and others who would be affected by the decision would need to be carefully constructed. Other changes, such as changes in billing dates, changes in report procedures, cancellation of existing privileges (personal parking places, subsidized meals, etc.), and similar announcements also require extra care.
The difference between messages of this variety and negative announcements is the need to persuade the reader to accept what you do have to offer:
Negative Reply: Because of your driving record, Mr. Smith, we are unable to provide you with the auto insurance you have requested.
Nonnegotiable Compromise: Although your driving record makes you ineligible for our standard policy, Mr. Smith, our high-risk coverage would meet your insurance needs.
Whether you are selling an alternative product or service or an alternative procedure, the basic structure of your message is essentially the same:
- Pace: Because you are going to offer something other than the product, service, or procedure that the reader expects, mention a benefit associated with the change before the reader concludes that you are not going to do what he or she expects. Be sure to place the message in its appropriate communication context; avoid off-the-subject openings.
- Lead: Remember that the reader has a vested interest in the original idea, product, service, or procedure. Present your alternative without seeming to criticize the readers idea. Rather than disparaging the original idea or product, concentrate on the positive aspects of the alternative. Avoid negative language (including the words substitute, substitution, and compromise, which imply inferiority).
- Blend outcomes: Sell the counterproposal. If the counterproposal has disadvantages (higher price, fewer features, etc.), subordinate them as much as possible without sacrificing clarity. Your reader needs to be able to make an informed decision. Even if the reader elects to do business elsewhere, it is to your advantage to retain his or her goodwill if possible.
- Motivate: When the reader has options other than severing the relationship (buying elsewhere, quitting his or her job, etc.), clarify them. Avoid taking unrequested actions (such as sending an alternative product). Emphasize the benefits of the new procedure or counterproposal. See Sample 42 for an example of a letter of this variety.
When communication situations are complex, writers may need to make difficult decisions about the best organizational pattern for accomplishing a variety of competing objectives. The general structure of pace, lead, blend outcomes, and motivate, however, will almost always apply.
In some cases, the only logical order in which to present things is chronological. Your first responsibility as a writer is always to be clear. Your second is to be courteous. The following checklist is useful in complex situations:
- Adequately present and discuss all sides of the situation.
- Distinguish and clearly label facts, opinions, and value judgments.
- Emphasize points of agreement before you discuss points of disagreement.
- Find and emphasize the benefits the reader will receive by accepting your point of view or course of action.
- Acknowledge your readers right to choose when a legitimate choice is possible.
- When the reader has no choice, make your proposal as attractive as you can.
The example presented in Sample 43 illustrates the presentation of details in a difficult situation. Note that the writer is the assistant manager of the Production Department who is filling in for the manager. The assistant has discovered a possible defalcation (misuse of funds) in the department, and the evidence seems to indicate that the manager may be responsible.
Sample 44 shows one approach to introducing changes within a department. In this case, the memo would have been preceded by discussions, so its contents would not be a complete surprise.