understatement.jpg
© Cartoon Resource | Shutterstock.com

Understating the Obvious

Published: Jun 21 , 2018
Author: Stephen White

The British are world champions at Understatement. From Captain Oates’ immortal ‘I am just going outside and may be some time’ to the pilot of the British Airways plane hobbled by volcanic ash ‘Ladies and Gentlemen this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped’ we are classically modest in our language when things are going wrong. My personal favourite; the epitaph on Spike Milligan’s tombstone ‘I told you I was ill’

So it was no surprise to hear Charles Horton, who resigned last week as CEO of Govia Thameslink Railway, tell a Commons Transport Select Committee that ‘things had not gone well’ during the introduction of a new timetable on May 20th which resulted in abject misery for hundreds of thousands of commuters as trains were cancelled and delayed.

Understatement is a disease. For British negotiators that is a very bad thing. Because understatement works to counter the correct structuring of expectations which is vital for good deals to be done.

How so? I once heard a Sales Director talking to a major customer start off by describing the complete destruction of their manufacturing plant in a fire as ‘a little local difficulty’, a phrase the way first coined by Harold McMillan when his entire Treasury team resigned on him. Paul Pester, CEO of TSB, was derided when he told a Select Committee that the migration of customer accounts to a new IT platform in April ‘had gone smoothly’; so much so that they subsequently expressed no confidence in him and recommended to the TSB Board that they ditch him (they didn’t). These examples of understatement are bound to lead to trouble because in the conversation that follows, when the true scale of the problem has to be revealed, the recipient becomes rightly incensed which leads to a reduced chance of resolution.

Is the reverse true? Does overstatement lead to the chance of a better deal. Are we so relieved to learn that things aren’t as bad as they were initially portrayed that we are suckered into a soft agreement. The psychologists claim this is so – it’s called conditioning – and they describe various experiments in which buyers pay over the odds if the sellers start by overstating the initial price.  I’m sure this is so, but experience and repetition soon teaches these victims to ignore early pricing indicators from their potential suppliers and to focus on research and preparation.

In summary neither under nor overstatement is a long-term strategy. Effective realistic structuring is because it leads to the development of mutual trust.


SHARE

Stephen White.jpg

About the author:

Stephen White
My background is sales and marketing. I read Law at University and worked for 2 major packaging companies for 13 years in sales and sales management. I joined John McMillan and Scotwork in 1984. For the next 25 years together with our colleagues we delivered training and consulting, built the global business and developed the Scotwork product portfolio.

Read more about Stephen White

More posts by Stephen White

SIGN UP TO OUR BLOG

We value your privacy. For more information please refer to our Privacy Policy


LATEST POSTS


TAGS

Latest Blog:

Qualifications

“When it comes to the qualifications we demand of our president, to start with, we need someone who will take the job seriously.” Michelle Obama. Don’t stop reading - this blog is not about Donald Trump. In the run up to the election of a new Labour Party Leader 4 years ago, the four candidates were invited by LBC radio to quiz each other. You can see the questions to Jeremy Corbyn here. There are two points of note. Firstly, when asked if he wants to be Prime Minister he ducks the question several times, instead referring to the ideological changes he wants to make within the Labour Party. Secondly when asked about his qualifications and experience to be leader of a major political party his answer is objectively underwhelming – before being an MP, he says, he had been a local councillor for 10 years. I don’t think it is difficult to relate those answers in 2015 to the current divided state of the Labour Party.

Latest Tweet:

Scotwork UK Limited
7 Fortrose St
Glasgow
G11 5NU
United Kingdom
+44 (0) 1413573989
info@scotwork.com
Follow us
Scotwork 21092 - Training Course.png
award 2.jpg
award 1.jpg