Ambiguity vs. Precision

Posted by Tom LarsenFeb 18, 2015 Marketing, Operations, Product Development, Sales 0 Comment

When do you need to be precise and when can you be ambiguous? That question comes up often and can be a defining issue when two parties involved in an activity together fail to communicate the need for one or the other.


One of the primary breakdowns in relationships stems from the above conflict and the use of email and not phone calls to align the needs of both parties.

Ambiguity is fantastic for far off time frames, for opening dialogues and the like. Do speak in “ballpark” terms and possibilities when the dialogue is still in concept.

When the dialogue becomes more advanced, actual delivery dates, prices for specific quantities, payment timeframes, you must be accurate and precise.

Not sure? Find out by asking. Always take the time to learn and understand “terms of engagement” in any relationship, just as you might with a new friend. Find out how they operate. Find out what motivates them. Find out what makes them tick. Do all of this while it is still acceptable to be ambiguous. Once you become precise, you will need to deliver on what is now a promise.

Tell someone that the price is $1.03 and when they call to place a Purchase Order two weeks later for 10,000 pieces tell them you’ve had a price increase to $1.15 and see what happens. If you had only said the price will be less than $1.25, you could have quoted the price when they were ready to buy at the $1.15 and they would have been quite satisfied.

If you’re not studying human behavior and learning about your customer’s need for precision vs. ambiguity, you will be missing a significant part of the dynamics of relationships, be they seller-buyer, employer-employee, peer to peer or any other. Being precise when ambiguity will suffice and being ambiguous when precision is necessary can erode trust and confidence, two relationship components that can be difficult or expensive to repair once damaged.

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