As a student of persuasion, I’ve had a few sales jobs to get in person experience.
Sometimes representatives of a company will deliberately withhold information to successfully book an appointment time or close a sale. They do this because disclosing certain details will lose them customers if they are communicated before enough commitments.
I know this, so I typically ask salesmen and service reps to figure out if they are being completely honest.
Note that it is impossible to communicate an exact idea of how something will go, unless you want a very, very long conversation. So you have to be selective about what you focus on. The difference is that you, the reader, will want to focus on things that matter to you, while the company rep will have their own interests in mind.
To be clear, a person can be honest with conscious effort and still leave out details that would be important to you. Sometimes details are left out because the person you are speaking to didn’t do a perfect job. That’s okay because nobody is perfect.
But sometimes the details are left out on purpose. When they are left out on purpose, it’s up to you to be aware, ask detailed questions, and be perceptive of how the person replies.
This example will be about booking a technical service installation at your residence. But it can generalize to anything.
Suppose you are talking to a representative for an Internet provider. You are about to agree to an installation date for their services. You ask how long it will take and they reply, “Installations take approximately two hours.” This is tactic number one, and a common response that would satisfy most people. But it leaves out some details, so consider the next two questions for your own use. Ask: How long can it take if there are issues? Will the company commit to a maximum length of time, so you can complain if they go over?
Or consider this possible response from the rep: “Our service team is trained to handle the installation as quickly as possible.”
Note that in this case, there is no specific length of time mentioned. Most people want the technician to take as little time as possible. Failing that, people generally prefer to have an honest estimate of how long an installation will take. They definitely prefer it to being lied to, or given incomplete information, even if it doesn’t feel good to hear it.
Salesmen seem not to know this, or pretend they don’t. What they do know is that you want to spend as little time as possible getting things taken care of (because it’s true). So they are usually trained to avoid telling you that it may, in fact, take a long time. But I have good news. You can squeeze the info out of ’em, if you know how. Questions like…
“What can I expect for a minimum and maximum length of time on the installation?”
Now that question is good, but we can make it even better. If you can pre-empt that question with this one:
“You are committed to honest and quality communication, right?”
And then maybe this one:
“Okay. Now how would I contact one of your superiors if the information you gave me was incomplete?” (Yes, I do enjoy this.)
Those two questions together make asking for a commitment on a minimum and maximum length of time way more effective.
Notice how asking for specific details is different after you’ve had them affirm their honesty and give you their manager’s contact information. It’s no guarantee if the employee knows their manager will be on their side, but it may help. Either way you can then say, “Your employee said he would be completely honest about the results, and this was not included.”
If you don’t want to remember specific questions, the simplified idea is:
- Notice when useful information is missing.
- If you notice anything missing, ask about it.
Bonus points if you confirm there will be consequences for misinformation. Your negotiating position is way stronger if you ask tough questions beforehand. If you don’t ask, they can say, “Oh, it’s too bad, you didn’t ask.”