The Negotiator Magazine

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People Believe What They See In Writing

The printed word has great power over people. Most people believe what they see in writing, even if they won't believe it when they just hear about it.

The Candid Camera people did a stunt to prove that a number of years ago -- you may remember seeing it on television. They posted a sign on a road next to a golf course in Delaware that said, "Delaware Closed." Allen Fount stood by the sign in a rented trooper's uniform. He wasn't allowed to speak to the people as they came up, only point up at the sign.

What happened amazed me. People were coming to a screeching halt and saying things like, "How long is it going to be closed for? My wife and kids are inside."

People believe what they see in writing. That's why I'm such a big believer in presentation binders. When you sit down with someone, you open the presentation binder, and it says, "My company is the greatest widget manufacturer in the world." Then you turn another page and it says, "Our workers are the greatest craftsmen in the business." You turn another page and start showing them reference letters from all your previous jobs.

They find it believable even when they know you just came from the print shop with it.

This is how hotels are able to get people to check out of the rooms on time. Holiday Inns used to have a terrible time getting people to check out of their rooms at 12 noon, until they learned the art of the printed word and posted those little signs on the back of the door. Now 97 percent of the guests check out of their rooms on time, without any question at all, because the written word is so believable.

Recognize this when you're negotiating with people. In our litigious society, it's essential to eventually get your agreement into writing. As regrettable as it may seen, it doesn't make much sense to verbally negotiate an agreement unless the other side is willing to attest to it in writing somewhere down the line. Power negotiators know that it's important to wean the other side onto seeing in writing what they are agreeing to verbally.

So every chance you get put things in writing. Take the time during the verbal negotiations to say, "Let me be sure that I understand what you're proposing." Then stop to write down your understanding of the point that you were discussing. Show it to the other side, but you don't have to have them sign it at this point. All you're doing is getting them used to seeing it in writing. This subliminally confirms what, up to that point, has only bee a verbal understanding. If you don this at intervals during the discussion, you'll have much less trouble getting them to sign the final written contract.

It's important to realize that, at every point of the negotiation, the other side is more persuaded by what they see in writing. For example, if you have salespeople selling for you and you have to put a price change into effect, be sure that they have it in writing. Because there's a world of difference between them sitting with a potential customer and saying, "We're having a price increase at the start of next month, so you should make a commitment now," and them saying, "Look at this letter I just got from my boss. It indicates that we're having a price increase on July 1st." Always show it to people in writing whenever you can. If you're negotiating by telephone, back up what you're saying by also faxing them the information.

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Copyright © 2003 Roger Dawson