Business Letters for Success in Complicated Situations :
What is Your Objective? :
Business letter advice usually focuses on brevity, clarity, and avoiding common errors. All of this is helpful.
These are significant technical points. Far more important is creating your plan. Letters, memos, and emails are only the tools to implement your plan and you should deal with them accordingly. They are important of course. But they cannot take you far without a well thought through plan.
As Stephen Covey says, Always have the end in mind.
Step One : What is the End You Have in Mind?
Our mission is to encourage you to think through your objectives before writing any document. Most writers dont do this except in the simplest of matters. In more complicated ones this leads them to flail away ineffectively.
Therefore, your odds of getting what you want are increased if you know what you want, especially in more complex discussions and correspondence.
Step Two : Determine Whether You are on Offense or Defense.
Offense is much harder to implement effectively than defense. This is one reason my companies and I rarely use aggressive offensive tactics such as a plaintiff lawsuit (no matter how right we believe we are), formal collection letters, or any other form of aggressive communication.
On offense the quick strike approach works best. An image to retain is the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor coupled with what they didnt do, taking it quickly before the Americans wised up to what was going on. Most offensive moves follow the actualJapanese pattern: a quick strike that surprises and semi-devastates the opponent in a limited way but serves principally to annoy and prepare them. On offense, if you bomb it, take it. Otherwise, don't start the bombing because it will only annoy and prepare your opponent.
The middle ground usually works best, as in most things. Assert your point of view in a reasonable measured way. Provide space for the recipient so they can respond favorably to your objectives.
Now you need to examine whether you are on the offensive, trying to get something or on the defense, trying to defend your position.
Defense is easier to implement as long as you can remain patient and prepare your plan accordingly. The key to good defense is knowing what the other party wants and finding ways to delay, distract, misdirect, and block their efforts to achieve it so you have time to get what you want.
The Russian strategy was to defeat Hitler by letting the Germans advance 10 kilometers a day. In this way the Russian plan would draw Hitler in, exhaust his supplies, and wear down the troops resolve. This worked. However, the Russians also calculated that if the Germans could advance 20 kilometers per day, it would be a German victory. The key then, as in most defensive maneuvers, of which your letters are part of, is to slow down the aggressor so you can wear them outand then pounce on them, as the Russians did so effectively in World War II.
This was, of course, a repeat of the 19th Century Tsars plan that drew Napoleon in, wore him down, and then the Russian troops pounced on them on their long march back to France. Stalin pulled his tried and true play out of the old Russian playbook.
We want you to keep your successful plays for later use too.
In any defensive disputes you get ensnared in, this general approach works best if you cannot get what you want through traditional negotiations. Few things can work so well in implementing a skillful retreat than a series of well thought through letters, faxes and emails, especially working together in concert to implement your overall plan.
Step Three : Determine where you are now.
This is your potential trump card over the other party in complex situations: If you can accurately identify where the parties actually are, not just where they would like to be, you are ahead of most people on the other side. Most people assume they can getwhat they want from the other side by yelling louder, threatening more, or because they feel you should and often delude themselves into believing they are already there.
Ruthless appraisal of the parties actual positions will help you be realistic and recognize the weaknesses in the other party's position as well as your own, and deal with both sides accordingly.
See the Board Position section for more detail about making these judgments.
Step Four : Determine What You Will Accept.
Be hard on both positions with regard to this point. Most people overestimate the strength of their position while underestimating those of the other side. Your mission is to be tough on your positions as well as theirs. As Roger Ury says in Getting to Yes,You can be tough on their positions without being tough on them personally. In other words, you need to separate the issues, emotions, and other irrelevancies from the people themselves, so you can continue to deal with them effectively. This is not always possible to do in person so correspondence helps keep the dialogue going.
In retail they say, Your first loss is your best loss. Another wonderful phrase is, Deals don't get better, they get deader. I agree with both points. Therefore, the best deals are those you can cut immediately. This requires you to be realistic about what you will accept. You should not be naïve and believe everything can be corrected. Or think that you can get what you want despite the evidence to the contrary in most disputes.
Once a conflict begins, it doesn't get better. The operative phrase is, Deals don't get better, they get deader.
Success comes in two ways a quick agreement or a skillful retreat. The former is far more productive for everyone concerned.
Step Five : Keeping Your Emotions in Check is the Winning Game.
Anger, accusations, and upset are for losers. No one wants to hear them, right or wrong. They serve to inflame the other side, undermine your credibility, and weaken your position in any final negotiations. Turning the other cheek really works in negotiations. This doesn't mean give up ground. It does mean don't be subject to emotions directed at you or be tempted to direct yours towards the other side.
Step Six : Your First Loss is Your Best Loss.
Most people do not realize they have already lost something when a dispute flares up. When a dispute starts, a certain amount of good will has already been lost when the first communication is sent out. When writing a letter of complaint, one is already at the disadvantage of being a supplicant as opposed to an equal party. And in sales or other solicitation letters one is usually at the mercy of the other party's good will. See Step Four again, Determine What You Will Accept.
Most parties on offense do not recognize they are the ones seeking something, which always puts one at a disadvantage in a negotiation. They usually think of themselves as ahead, right, in a better position and so on and so forth. In the end, the offensemust get the defense to lift their hand and stroke a check. Being right can't sign checks nor can the law or the Judge.
This is why taking the first satisfactory deal offered is usually best for the offense. The defense can afford to wait and ponder matters for longer because they are the ones who will be doing the paying. As a guiding principle, he or she who signs the check can make most of the rules and few people fully realize this, including supposedly adept lawyers, because they are focused on process (e.g., court activities and documents) not on their purpose (getting the money).
Step Seven : Write Down Your Responses to the First Six Steps and Keep them.
Write a short dated note summarizing the above points for your review. With these in place, you can move on to decide what medium of communication is best to use (e.g., letter, fax, or email), what sequence will be involved (anything complicated usually requires a series of communications, though most people dont plan for this in the beginning), and only then get down to the actual document or documents necessary to implement your plan.
If you do this effectively, you will be well ahead of most of your correspondents before you send the first communication because you know what you want, you know what you will accept, you have identified their position accurately and you have planned a controlled dialogue to get the best result.
You now have the winning hand.
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Business Letters for Success in Complicated Situations
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