Ambivalence to Commitment

Three Techniques to Move Decision Makers in Your Direction.

Posted Jul 18, 2012

 Job interview, sales call, or meeting with a potential client.  Someone is going to make a decision about working with you.

  There are three ways these meetings can end:

 ·      Enthusiastic and Committed.   

·      Unenthusiastic and Uncommitted.   “Trust your gut” on this one. 

·      Ambivalent.  This is the most common attitude we see in our practice.  “If I select this person I fear I will have sub—optimized. I don’t want to do that.  If I interview more people, I will be spending more time. I don’t want to do that either.”

The purpose of this article is profile for you three techniques you can use to turn ambivalence into commitment.


The three techniques are “letter of understanding,” “here is what I would do in the first three months,” and “I would not take this job unless….”


 Letter of Understanding. 

 Our client was a candidate for the position of Vice President, Operations.  The prospective CEO/boss told our client that she lacked experience in his industry.  This lack of experience was a big problem for the CEO.  Our client responded with a “Letter of Understanding.”  The letter was organized along the following lines:

Summary of Understanding.  A discussion of the corporate business strategy, its external environment, the internal operations, and how the position in question fits into the “big picture.” She wrote that she was providing this section as a “helpful way of aligning my misinterpretations.”

Position Challenges.  This section is a discussion about the key challenges that will be faced by the incumbent over the next 6—12 months.

Qualifications.  Based on the “Position Challenges” section, our client wrote a point—by—point discussion about her skills relative to the demands of the job.

This document consisted of seven pages of single space material of real substance.  We later spoke with the CEO.  He related that this letter had turned “profound ambivalence” into “enthusiastic support.”

It is important to stress that the Vice President did not write a “sales letter.”  She acknowledged those areas where the President saw weaknesses but gave specific suggestions for how she would overcome those weaknesses.


Here is What I Would Do in the First Three Months. 

This type of letter is far more operational than the “Letter of Understanding.”  It has the following sections:

·      Key Things The Decision Maker Wishes Accomplished Over the Next Twelve Months.

·      Action Steps I Would Take in the First Ninety Days.

The “Three Months” letter works well with decision makers who are concerned that a job candidate or consultant might not fully appreciate a company’s special corporate culture.  Its purpose is to convince decision makers that you are the type of person who proceeds logically and thoughtfully from a clear plan of action.

In writing a “Three Months” letter, it is important to print the word “DRAFT” at the top.  The purpose of the document is to convince decision makers that you can logically think through what needs to be done.  Do not lock yourself into a defined set of actions. You want room to “wiggle.”


I Would Not Take This Job Unless I Thought It Was a Good Fit. 

 Decision Makers naturally think they are the “customers” in a sales relationship.  They are wary that they are being improperly offered a “bill of goods” by someone who just wants to "get the order."  When the decision maker perceives herself to be in such a win/lose relationship, the more enthusiastic you are the more on guard she gets.

This technique helps to redefine the relationship from win/lose to win/win.

You will simply say: “If you offered me this project I would not take it unless I thought it would be a win for you and a win for me.”  For example:

One of our clients was a candidate for a biotechnology position.  The job involved having an important skill set which our client did not have.  The decision maker was skeptical about the fit.  Our client responded with the following:

   “I appreciate there are risks you take if you hire me.  If I don’t work out, you will be back interviewing job candidates for the same position.  That is a waste of your time and the company’s money.  You will have to explain to your boss why you made an error in judgment.  Are there other risks for you I have failed to appreciate?

    “I hope you appreciate that I too am taking risks here.  The risk for me is that if I don’t work out, I will be back on the job market.

    “This is a terrible time to be looking for work.  Having short tenure with your company will harm my job prospects.

    “I would like to suggest that the personal and financial risks for me and my family are greater than the inconvenience and financial loss for you and for the company.

    “We are in the same boat.

     “I would not accept the job offer if I didn’t think I could do a great job for you:  I would not put myself and my family through the trauma of yet another job search.”

By transforming the perceived win-lose relationship into “we are in the same boat” he got the job despite not being an ideal candidate for it.

 Ambivalence Reduction is the Key

There is solid evidence that the fear of what could be lost is far more consequential than the thrill of what could be gained.

The key to all three techniques we have used in this article is to help you reduce the perceive risks. 

          Underneath these techniques is the importance of radiating calm sincerity as your primary emotion.

        I want to see eagerness in my puppy!