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Letting Them Sweat–How to Weaken Relationships

My friend Cindy, who runs a training company, told me about an apparent negotiating technique I was not aware of: letting them sweat.

Cindy had prepared a proposal for a prospective client. Shortly after the client received the proposal, all communication stopped. Emails from Cindy's staff received no reply. Phone calls were not returned. Cindy was worried that something had gone wrong–until another client told her she was simply on the receiving end of a negotiating technique being touted these days.

The technique is to let the other person sweat. Let her sweat when her email gets no reply. If she worries enough about what might have gone wrong with the proposal, that worry will make her less confident and more eager to negotiate.

Letting them sweat is a perfect way to weaken relationships. When prospective clients do not reply to my email or phone calls, my concern is not what I might have done better in the proposal but whether I really want to work with someone who is noncommunicative and perhaps stressed out and disorganized. Rather than making me feel more eager to negotiate, I cool off, wondering where I might tighten my proposal to make working with a potentially difficult client more rewarding. 

Cindy waited it out without sweating. Eventually the prospective client contacted her. Now everything needs to move quickly to meet the client's goals, which had been put on hold during the sweating time.

I would much rather work with efficient, communicative clients like the one I described in the post "An Efficient Way to Schedule Follow-Up." I prefer the path of efficiency and collaboration over the path of war with winning and losing.

What do you prefer?

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

7 comments on “Letting Them Sweat–How to Weaken Relationships”

  • That’s just insane.

    I agree with you completely – much better not to work with such clients – who needs the headache?

  • “Letting them sweat” seems to be a 19th/20th-century business tactic (when some would boast of making an opponent “sweat saddlebags” — an image of pit stains meeting in the middle of the shirt). Happily, the future looks to be one more of cooperation for mutual success rather than of competition.

  • Many businesses are using the poor economy as an excuse to behave badly. They’re squeezing as much as they can out of their workers, putting new hires and contracts on hold for no reason and being stingy just for the sake of it. Times will improve, and you can believe that anyone who’s been on the receiving end of this bad behavior won’t forget.

  • Thanks, Yoav, Lester, and Diane, for commenting.

    Lester, thank you for explaining “sweat saddlebags.”

    Diane, I was thinking about your comment today, when someone described an opposite effect of the poor economy: Companies are increasing their focus on good customer communication because each customer has become so important.


  • I’m often surprised how often we feel the need to create unnecessary tension and conflict in the workplace. Like moods and bad, conflict can be viral: it spreads quickly. The communicative route is best, always; but it’s hard to keep it as the standard unless all parties are on the same field in regards to it. The worst communication, I think, is none at all. Delays and problems can be managed, but the parties must communicate in regards to them. In the example you provided, the client would likely have gotten a better product had they not forced a deadline through their poor tactic. Cindy would have been able to work on the project longer and give it more energy.

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