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Negotiation by Brain Overload - Scott Adams' Blog

Negotiation by Brain Overload

Regular readers know that my wife Shelly and I are building a home. We were warned that we would be overwhelmed by all of the decisions. I was ready for this, I thought.

For most of my life, including my school years, I worked two or three jobs at the same time. The exception was when I was getting my MBA at night while working during the day. I thrive on complexity. How hard could it be to design a house? You pick some doorknobs, choose your favorite color for the paint, and off you go.

Allow me to invent a new word to describe my feeling at this moment: Holyjeezamafuginkripes.

We’re more involved in the details than most homeowners. That’s part of the fun. And it has been a delight so far. But at the same time I have come to understand the true meaning of overwhelmed. To illustrate, take just one category out of several hundred decisions we need to make: paint.

Your standard paints have what is called VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. That means they release their particles into the air forever, even after they are dry. Scientists think that a high level of VOCs is very bad for you. (Yes, you are almost certainly breathing high VOCs in the room you are in right now.)

The good news is that paint companies are now making zero-VOC paint. But you can’t easily do color matching with the zero-VOC paints, so you won’t get the color you really want, except by luck. It’s a crap shoot. And if you want to faux paint a wall, the glaze isn’t low VOC. And what about the stain on your cabinets? And what exactly is the level of VOCs that is acceptable, given that different states mandate different maximum levels? And do these zero-VOC paints work just as well? And are the mandated low levels because of the release into the atmosphere during spraying, or do you really need those lowest levels to protect the inhabitants? And who has the answers to those questions? I have asthma, dammit, and I need to know!

Now imagine that you want as many as three colors per room. And each color has to be compatible with the door color, the furniture, the rug, the countertops, the floor, and your daughter’s nail polish. And imagine that it is impractical to see all of those elements at the same time in one place before you decide. Oh, and the natural light in any given room completely changes how your paint will look.

But my point, and I do have one, is that I wonder how this concept of being overwhelmed works in a context of negotiations. I can tell you from my own experience than once you have too many choices to make, you start getting flexible fast, just to survive.

So imagine that you have a meeting in which you want to convince someone to do something your way. One good strategy might be to weaken the other person’s resolve by overwhelming him with less relevant choices before the important one is presented.

That’s what car dealers do. By the time the consumer is done considering all of the many options for a potential car, he is already overwhelmed before negotiating price.

In summary, if you want your business nemesis to agree to one thing, make him consider ten things first. It will seem as if you are generously offering your nemesis control over many choices when in reality you are a manipulating bastard or bastardess.