The Personal Pronoun Trap

When I started my sales career 25 years ago, I had absolutely no negotiating skills… none, nada. To give myself a little credit, I did negotiate for an eel-skinned pocketbook in Tijuana, Mexico, one time and did rather well for myself, I think (the transaction was done using my college Spanish, and the currency was pesos).

When I entered a profession that required good… no, great negotiating skills, I recognized there was a problem. My reaction was similar to how I react to virtually everything… get educated. I began reading books on negotiation, asking those I viewed as strong negotiators, and attending any and all seminars on the subject. But most importantly, I practiced. These years of negotiating practice have led me to educate others on this topic.

Although my negotiating classes have several strategies, I ask students to pick three changes that they can put into action immediately to strengthen their negotiators. Over the year, I have realized that the feedback from students concentrated around one change… personal pronouns.

I know what you are thinking…..what do personal pronouns have to do with negotiating?

A lot, actually. But before we talk about how to use (or not use) personal pronouns in negotiating, let’s go back to elementary school and remember what they are.

A personal pronoun takes the place of specific nouns like a person’s name. We typically use these pronouns in place of a name because repeating a name over and over diminishes the flow of the sentence. For example, Tom bought a new car. He loves it (“he” being the personal pronoun). Personal pronouns are I, me, we, us, ours, you, your, etc.

Now, back to the point. One of the objectives of the negotiating event is to prevent the other party from becoming defensive. Defensiveness can impede the progress of the negotiation. One of the quickest ways to promote a defensive response is using personal pronouns. Let me provide an example…” I don’t understand why you made that counteroffer.” This statement seems like a simple question. But because it was couched in a personal way (by using the words “you” and “I”), the listener can quickly go on the defensive. Another way of saying this statement would be, “My client would like to understand the thought process behind the counteroffer.”

As a negotiator, I believe that a simple change can improve the experience for both you and the party you are representing.

So, the next time you are negotiating, just stop and think before using a personal pronoun.