Persuasion Begins with “No”

I’m bad at taking rejections and I am not alone. Most of us just dunno how to deal with a “No.” A “No” is a complete dismissal of our idea. A dead end!

To bypass “No” a lot of sales pitches are designed to box us into saying an unnatural “Yes.” Some of them are as stupid as they come. Do you want to be healthier? Do you want to avoid losses? Do you like having clean drinking water?

You cannot avoid answering “Yes” without sounding insane. Also, if you say “Yes” to being healthier, then by extension you would say “Yes” to whatever they are trying to sell. The logic is impeccable but the sales tactic cannot get anymore stupid than this. Coercion isn’t persuasion.

We simply say “Not interested” and hang up when they ask for the sale. Even though they squeeze out a “Yes” from us once in a while, it’s not an authentic “Yes”. How many times have we said “Yes” just to get out of a conversation and give one excuse or the other to cancel the deal later?

In order to persuade somebody what we want to get is an authentic “Yes,” not a counterfeit one. According to former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss, the journey begins with “No”.

We treat “No” as rejection—the ultimate negative word, but it isn’t so. “No” signifies the end of conversation only if we take it literally. Often people don’t mean what they say. Just as a counterfeit “Yes” doesn’t mean you’ve closed the deal, an early “No” doesn’t mean the conversation is over. In fact, it’s the opposite.

“No” is the start of a conversation. It seldom means, “I have considered all the facts and made a rational choice.” Instead, “No” is a coping mechanism to maintain the status quo. “No” gives one control over the situation. “Yes” is change and change can be scary. “No” provides protection from that scariness.

When you go to your boss to ask for a hike, the default answer is “No.” But this “No” doesn’t mean “Get the hell outta here.” It means, “I am not convinced.” It’s an invitation to make your case. If you go away after the first “No” you are (literally) leaving millions on the table.

“No” often means one of the following: I am not ready yet; I’m not comfortable with this; I don’t trust you; I don’t understand this; I don’t think I can afford it; I want something else; I need more information; I want to explore other options; or I want to talk it over with someone else.

Everyone is driven by two primal urges: the need to feel safe and the need to feel in control. “No” gives them that. Once they have felt secure about their position, they can start to open up and really listen to what you have to say. The ball is in your court now.

Depending on the situation, you can either ask solution-based questions: What about this doesn’t work for you? What would you need to make it work? Or, you can reiterate their state of mind to take the conversation ahead: I see that you aren’t convinced; It seems there’s something here that bothers you.

Winning a negotiation isn’t about cornering a prey. It’s about amicably getting a buy-in. “No” starts conversations and creates safe havens to get to the final “Yes” of commitment. An early “Yes” is often just a cheap, counterfeit dodge. Always start with “No.”

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