The words we choose generally reflect the way we understand the world. Similarly, our experiences and perspectives color the way we grasp and react to language. Because both of these things are true, negotiation requires us to be sensitive to various ways other parties might interpret the words we use.
It is true that most words have a clear meaning which is readily understood; this is generally called their “dictionary definition” or “denotative meaning.” The meaning of the word often goes beyond this meaning, though. For example, “housewife” just means a woman who spends much of her time looking after a home. Even though term’s definition is not overtly derogatory, this term still has a negative “connotative meaning” for many people (perhaps because it is often closely connected to ideas about the devaluation of women’s labor). Since it has these negative connotations, the unthinking use of the word “housewife” in a negotiation can convey information and create impressions that were not at all what we intended.
Negotiators should avoid language which would likely cause additional difficulties in negotiation. They should steer clear of language with negative connotations that might cause the other party to quit cooperating or could cause them to form a false sense of our position. The connotative meaning of a term can be well understood or a matter of individual interpretation. Because reactions to a particular term vary widely and change over time, we cannot anticipate every word that might elicit a negative response. Still, we can make an effort to be aware of the language which currently has volatile connotations for many people and be especially alert to the unpredictable language that is relevant to our own negotiation.
This does not mean that we should use language to conceal our real position or that we should use positive language selectively to make our own position look good, though, a negotiator might choose to do this. The point here is that we should try to avoid language with connotations which are likely to introduce new elements of hostility, worry or stubbornness into our negotiation process.
You can help to put buyers and sellers at ease by using language to lead them through the transaction process. The steps of a real estate transaction may be second nature to you, but once again, this is something that most buyers and sellers do not have a lot of experience. Because of this, the people with whom we are negotiating feel more settled often, and certain of what is happening if we communicate the stages to the process, indicate our current stage, and clearly indicate our progress..
Just as we can use language to put buyers and sellers at ease, we can use language to help them see the property in the best possible light. Sensing both parties’ needs and desires, you can offer ideas that will help them meet their goals. Even though most of us are not poets, we can still use words to develop imagery and impressions of a property in someone’s mind. We are not limited to conveying facts. For example, the data on the listing sheet rarely gives anyone a clear picture of a house, especially in terms of its explicit and implicit advantages. There is usually much more material that makes the house considerably more appealing which could be used for a presentation. When we are trying to convey this to a potential buyer, we want to speak in visual terms; we should strive to create word pictures that carry meaning and spark feelings that can motivate a person to choose this particular home.
Lastly, we should try to speak in such a way that both our clients and other parties would feel comfortable to ask us questions. Our jobs will be much easier if everyone involved is well-informed and shares the same basic understanding of the situation. This is much more likely to happen when all of us feel that we may freely ask questions. Often, people are hesitant to ask questions because they worry that doing so might make them appear ignorant; this worry is intensified when they feel intimidated by the person of whom they would need to ask the question. To create an environment that’s conducive to questions and open communication, the salesperson must strike a balance: he or she needs to make it clear that they know what they are doing that they are competent enough to deserve the trust of all parties. However, they should do this in a way that does not rely on bullying, demeaning or intimidating anyone involved. The salesperson should answer questions patiently and clearly and encourage all parties to ask questions at points in the process where someone outside the real estate profession might reasonably be confused or unsure.
March 7 is National Be Heard Day. It is a day for small businesses, even real estate agents, to be heard. Let us celebrate this day by learning to be tactful and choosing our words properly.