As business owners, salespeople and customer service reps, our job is to create the clearest communication possible. Yet we often confuse, and sometimes alienate, clients and prospects when we present their options tangled up with our opinions.
How do options and opinions get tangled up together? How can we prevent this confusion in our communication?
Options refer to “something that may be chosen” (Merriam Webster). These can be viewed as a list of actions, products or events that your customer can consider and then decide on one or two or more that they want to purchase or accept. While the customer’s decision may be based on some emotion on their part, communicating options is a logical process.
You might present options as a numbered list, or in a particular order based on things like price or date or location. You are providing your customer or prospect with facts, based on your discussions with them, and then stepping back and allowing them time and space to make a decision.
No matter what the client or prospect decides, you learn something about them, their needs and how to grow your relationship. Even if they don’t choose any of the options you present, you still learn more about their needs.
Opinions can be defined as “belief stronger than impression and less strong than positive knowledge” or “a formal expression of judgment or advice by an expert” (Merriam Webster). Sharing your opinions with customers and prospects is often important and very valuable.
An opinion is best expressed with a preamble such as “Based on my experience …” or “What I’ve noticed …” or “My preference is …” or “What others are sharing with me …”. While this information may indeed be logical, it also includes your personal, and sometimes emotional, biases.
When we mix options with opinions we can create confusion, annoyance and often lose the opportunity to grow a relationship with a client or prospect. For example, a service provider sent me an email with several options for our next step. Beside each option, they included an opinion:
*We could do this for this result, but I have heard that this can add some time delays …
*So we could do this, but perhaps we want to do something else entirely …
The options are there but they are entwined with other bits of information that muddied my decision making. I had a cranky reaction to this bit of communication and felt a bit manipulated. Either the company wants to work with me and provide me with options to consider, or they want to work with me but not be straightforward with facts and their thoughts.
In the end, I chose to walk away … and write this blog post. Now I’d love to hear your thoughts.
6 thoughts on “Options vs Opinions”
Thanks for sharing this Mary Jane. There are times when I want just the options and then there are times when I want their recommendation on what the best option is for me. I am thinking of my habit of asking servers at restaurants what they feel is the best menu item to select if you have never eaten there before.
Great example, Tim. Yes, there are definitely times when we want someone’s opinion and others when we really want to understand our options so we can make our own decision. I find that when the two get mixed together the communication becomes unclear and unsatisfying. Thanks for sharing this excellent example.
I think that if a salesperson is doing their job right, they shouldn’t be offering me options that aren’t worth my consideration. Saying look at this option but it’s not really good for you, is a total waste of my time… and theirs.
Yes … it is a waste of everyone’s time. When you write it this way, Linda, what I hear in terms of the salesperson is they feel they “must” give all the options even though they don’t believe in all of them. So then they withdraw their support of an option by adding their opinion. Hmmmm. Thanks for your comments.
I do this
Sometimes i’m genuinely trying to inform but a lot of times i’m trying to sway a decision.
More often than not it makes my emails long winded, which I get frustrated with too. Lol
Thanks for calling me out on this. I will be more direct.
Hi Jay and thanks for your insightful reply. Even as you wrote it you used the phrase “sway a decision” and that’s exactly what I felt in the example I used. But for me, the client, it wasn’t a positive experience because it seemed more manipulative than like sharing their expertise. I think that as consultants with expertise, our clients do want to hear our opinions, but they should be clearly separated from the options we have available. I really appreciate your contribution to this conversation.