Just say the thing.
I had a sweatshirt that said “eschew obfuscation” when I was a kid. I was very cool.
“Eschew Obfuscation” means “avoid making things unclear.” The phrase is a little funny. But it’s also good advice.
I was on a call with a client recently where a key employee from the team was new to the conversation with a potential partner. And the employee said so right at the top: “Forgive me, I’m new to this conversation, and I don’t actually know the context.”
His boss was concerned. I wasn’t.
Listen, ideally, the key employee would have been prepped before the call, and have the necessary context going into the conversation. But we’re all busy, and that step got missed here. I’d much rather the employee speak up and thus bring more value to the call by participating in it well-informed, even if there’s an awkward moment at the start of “whoops, let’s catch you up.”
In this particular case, a very close friend runs things at the potential partner. So I reached out to her afterwards and asked if she and her team had been offended by the employee’s directness about not knowing the topic at the start. “Not at all,” was the response — something very similar had happened with her team on a recent call.
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Directness matters. Sometimes — oftentimes! — the best move is to just say the thing. When it comes to pricing, for example, we often think we should start high so that the buyer can come in low. Or we worry that if we come in too high, the potential partner will ghost, so we negotiate against ourselves and come in low to begin with.
My strategy is to say the price, and say that it’s the price. “I’ve worked to get the price as aggressive as possible, and that’s X.” If I’m asked whether there’s room for negotiation, I give the honest answer: No, if there’s not. “Possibly,” if there is — but perhaps acknowledging that we might have to change exactly what we’re offering if we need to land at a lower rate.
There are so many scenarios where just saying the thing helps a ton:
If a meeting can’t continue because a key stakeholder is missing, just end the meeting. “I know we all need this answer, but it doesn’t make sense without Marie here, so let’s not waste cycles that we’ll have to repeat when we reschedule — and just reschedule.” Everyone likes getting time back!
I wish more people were comfortable saying, “I know you just asked me a question, but I was distracted. Can you repeat it?” We can tell when you’re guessing at the question, or hemming and hawing. Save us time, own you missed it, and let’s keep things moving.
And perhaps the hardest way to be direct of all for some of us: “I actually don’t see a path forward here.” Often we want to avoid bearing bad news, so we let meetings drag on. We schedule follow-ups. We keep the conversation going. Sometimes there’s no fit, and it’s better to say it and end things vs. humoring a partner you just can’t work with.
It’s easy to conflate obfuscating reality with politeness, but the real kindness is just saying the thing.