Almost every morning I ask my girls the wrong question, “What would you like for breakfast?” I say it’s wrong, because I always get the same frustrating answer, “I don’t care.” But yet, I ask it every morning in hopes that one day I’ll be surprised by the answer. However, recently, I asked a different question, “Would you like pancakes or cereal?”. Guess what they said?
Pancakes! I was so excited. Why didn’t they say, “I don’t care”? First of all, the reason they say that to begin with is because they appreciate that I’m willing to make them breakfast so they believe that answer is helpful to me because it gives me the ability to make anything that I want (I know this because I asked them, “why do you say that?!”). What they fail to realize, is that answer leaves me with infinite choice and creates a problem for me. It creates paralysis. There are literally so many choices that I cannot even choose. Not too mention that if I pick something they don’t like, it’s my fault!
I looked into this choice dilemma even further and discovered a book by Barry Schwartz called, “The Paradox of Choice”. I even found a TED Talk by Barry of the same title. That’s where I discovered my answer. I was unhappy with too much choice but my girls were happy with some choice (thus the pancakes). We all want choice and when given the opportunity to choose amongst a limited selection we will make a choice. But when the possibilities are limitless and the choices infinite, we are often paralyzed and can’t make a choice. When we do, we are less satisfied because we know of all the other alternatives that were available to us so poor choices are compounded. It also means expectations increase because we believe there’s a better choice to be made.
When I narrowed the choice to an either/or, it made life easier for everyone. By limiting their choices, a choice could actually be made. There was no paralysis. They were happy with the choice because the alternative was limited to one comparison not an entire pantry of food. I was thrilled because I got direction and a commitment.
The same can apply at the negotiating table. When stuck, make a proposal. When there are many options and you don’t seem to be making progress, offer an either/or proposal. Make them choose between two scenarios that you would be completely satisfied with. Best case scenario, the other party will pick an option and you can move forward. Worst case is that they don’t like either option in which case it opens a dialogue to discuss what they do prefer. Either of those scenarios are great for the negotiator.
Next time you are faced with many choices or you get the dreaded, “I don’t care”, give the other party a choice to make. You’ll both be happier in the long run.
Too Many Choices?
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