“I’m only responsible for what I say.

I’m not responsible for what you infer from what I say.”


I used to always joke with my consulting analysts that we were obviously paying them way too much money because I never saw them negotiate for anything - they always paid full price for every single purchase.  Whenever I told them they should be haggling for everything from rent to new cars to appliances to clothing to dining out, they always looked at me like I was a time traveler from the Victorian age.  They would often say things like “but you can’t negotiate that” or “what if they say no”.  Haggling sure seemed like a lost art form.


So I found myself teaching them a lot of practical negotiation tactics that were passed down to me from the most amazing negotiator I ever knew - my Dad.  In this new Huttle series, we’ll go over what I call the Practical Art of Negotiation - down to Earth, easy to follow rules that can be used in all manners of everyday negotiation scenarios.  Note that we will NOT be discussing the academic view of negotiating - so we won’t be talking about BATNAs or ZOPAs or anything like that.  Those concepts are interesting from a theoretical perspective, but to me have limited usage in practical applications.  And besides, who needs to memorize another fancy acronym anyway?


One of my golden rules of negotiation is that I’m only responsible for what I say - I’m not responsible for what you infer from what I say.


A good example of this is whenever I used to negotiate with a fine dining establishment for a team dinner or campus recruiting dinner back in my Deloitte days.  I always let it be very clearly known from the outset that I was representing a Deloitte Consulting function.  And one of my favorite lines to use was - “you know, if you cut me a good deal on this dinner I’ll be sure to get you on the preferred vendor list.”  


Now because I made it very clear that this was an official dinner for some portion of Deloitte Consulting, the dining establishment always assumed I meant the “Deloitte Consulting preferred vendor list.”  In reality, I meant the “Ed Horne preferred vendor list.”  I’m not sure who was in charge of the Deloitte Consulting preferred vendor list (or even if one existed), but I sure knew that I did not have any power over that list.  And you’ll be surprised how often dining venues will start throwing things your way in terms of discounts / gift cards / personalized menus / free tastings just to get on this “preferred vendor list” that you speak of.


Now there are some benefits to being on the Ed Horne preferred vendor list - namely a good Yelp review, strong word of mouth, and potential repeat personal business.  So all is not lost.  However, the usage of precisely worded, yet ambiguous language that is prone to misinterpretation is a very powerful tool in a one-time negotiation.  


Admittedly this tactic doesn’t work very well in a cycle of repeated negotiations (people don’t like feeling that they have been purposely misled), but you can get around this by just going to another venue and using the same line.  You’d be surprised how often this works in a diversified, high-turnover business like dining establishments.


Throughout the years I’ve noticed that one group of individuals that love the usage of precisely worded, yet ambiguous language that is prone to misinterpretation are politicians - especially as it pertains to campaign promises or soaring stump speech rhetoric.  Remember this the next time your most favorite or most hated politician starts using words like “many” interchangeably with “most” or something similar.  Most reasonable people would claim that there is no difference in these simple words in everyday parlance, but their precise usage can have vastly different meanings when viewed through a strict legal and / or political lens.  In this case, “many” = a large amount and “most” = majority.


But wait a minute, you say.  Didn’t you just say earlier that this tactic doesn’t work well in a cycle of repeated negotiations?  Won’t voters remember being potentially misled?  Don’t politicians have to get re-elected?  Yes, yes, and yes - however, this is where politicians (on both sides of the aisle) are counting on the short attention span of the average American voter.  As long as you forget the last time they used precisely worded, yet ambiguous language that is prone to misinterpretation by the time the next election happens, they can roll out more precisely worded, yet ambiguous language that is prone to misinterpretation in their re-election campaign.  If they are especially daring, they can even roll out the same precisely worded, yet ambiguous language that is prone to misinterpretation they used last time.  Just remember that the next time you think you found a politician lying - they might just have been using this simple negotiation tactic.

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