Get What You Want at Work By Being More Specific

If you wanted to go on a date with someone, you wouldn’t just say “Want to go on a date?” You would present a plan: “Can I take for you ice cream and a walk in the park this Saturday at 6?”

Specificity like this makes our proposals clearer, more credible, and more attractive. Setting details shows initiative and planning, and it sets the tone for whatever comes after, whether acceptance or rejection. So why would things be any different with our other requests and proposals at work?

It’s easy to think that asking for a generality is more likely to get us agreement:

  • “We should provide a mapping service in our new app.”
  • “What do you think about running an ad campaign for our new paint line?”
  • “What do you think about adding a new phone line?”

Generally, these vague proposals come from enthusiasm. To us, our good ideas seem so obvious that we expect the details to fill themselves in our for our hearers.

But generally, these broad and vague proposals are just big enough to be easily shot down. Because we haven’t taken the initiative to explain your vision, we have left our proposals open to negative imagination. People will fill in the details with their doubts, questions, and skepticism if we don’t fill in the blanks with concrete specifics that differentiate our proposals from what they’ve heard or considered themselves already.

Or if our vague proposals sound good to other people, we soon find that we have left them just vague enough to be turned into Frankenstein monsters we want no part in creating:

  • Our idea for the mapping service turns into a new, misguided direction for the app instead of a limited feature change.
  • Our idea for running a new ad campaign gets hijacked by someone with more initiative and a really cheesy dad joke ad premise.
  • Our idea for adding a new phone line turns into the addition of unsustainable phone support at your company.

We can avoid all of this by just being more specific:

  • We should run a new ad campaign (emphasis on detail) **for $50,000 for the next 60 days that uses the new Facebook platform and targets the audiences we have not reached so far with [INSERT SPECIFIC MESSAGES] for the purpose of driving more foot traffic in the stores. We can test that by [INSERT KEY METRIC]. It’s important that we reach this audience because [INSERT SPECIFIC REASON]. 

This concrete proposal shows we’ve done our thinking. It also makes our proposal easier to accept or reject outright, without the addition of unwanted or unplanned elements from people who will gladly plan out our vaguer proposals for us.

Of course, proposing things this way doesn’t mean our ideas will or should win. It just means we are setting the tone of the conversation about our ideas. It’s very important to hold these ideas loosely. A person with very specific ideas and a fanatical determination to hold on to them is just a jerk.

So we should know that even if our specific proposals are rejected, our efforts to cover the specifics will make the general case more credible. We have given our hearers a lot to work with, and since people generally tend to reciprocate on hard work, they may find ways to use the details of our proposals even if they say no. We will often find that we something close to what we want, at least:

  • “Alright, James. I disagree with the time and budget proposed because [INSERT SPECIFIC REASON], but we should test your campaign for a limited run of 3 weeks with [INSERT SPECIFIC SEGMENT OF POPULATION] to validate it.”

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

*You should explain why you want the thing, of course, but that should go without saying.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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