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Communication at Work: Why Hearing "No" Should Be Your Goal

By |March 11, 2019

Many of the negotiation techniques we teach at Black Swan Group are part of a “no” strategy. We discuss ways to make “no” work for you in a negotiation; share tips on how to get buy-in, starting with a “no” ; and offer communication techniques to help create space between “yes” and “no.”

In our everyday lives, we see “no” as a form of rejection. In most situations, “no” signifies an end rather than a beginning. So why do we go out of our way to make “no” our goal in negotiations? Below, we’ve outlined the top reasons why a “no” strategy is the ultimate secret weapon.

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Saying “No” Settles The Stomach

Whether or not we acknowledge their power, emotions guide our lives. They dictate our thoughts and perceptions about the world and actively influence our behavior. We are emotional creatures by nature, and the world is an emotional minefield. Surprisingly, saying “yes” to things naturally makes people more anxious than saying “no”.

Our emotional reactions tend to manifest in a physical way, as intense sensations that are both chicken and egg to our thoughts. They surface as butterflies or knots in our stomach, as a twinge or pang in our gut, or as a tightness or pounding in our chest. In fact, negative emotions have a more immediate and lasting effect than positive ones. You can be in a relationship, be very happy, see that person everyday and be very happy and contented.  You can also end a relationship and be upset for months and never even see the person. If you have every been in a relationship, ask yourself which of those emotions you felt was more powerful. On a basic level, we all try to get through our day feeling emotionally balanced and in control—and we actively avoid situations that might make us feel the opposite.

Being pushed to say “yes” before we’re ready is one of those situations that feel downright uncomfortable. In a negotiation, asking yes-oriented questions can make your counterpart feel trapped and trigger a negative domino effect. When this happens, our fight-or-flight instincts kick in, and our emotions start to override our reasoning and comprehension faculties.

Oftentimes, we need to say “no” before we’re ready to say “yes.” In new situations, saying “yes” is a concession that magnifies our sense of vulnerability. On the other hand, saying “no” is a convenient means of self-preservation. It doesn’t require any real effort or emotional investment.

When you give someone the ability to say “no” by asking no-oriented questions, you respect their autonomy and preserve their emotional safety net. By awarding them the right to veto, you keep them engaged and nurture trust while still satisfying their need to set boundaries.

“No” Is More Accurate and Informative Than “Yes”

There’s another key reason why asking, “Do you disagree?” is more effective than, “Do you agree?” To avoid conflict (and keep our tummies feeling good), it’s much easier to go along with someone than it is to rock the boat. When you ask yes-oriented questions that you already know the answer to, you give people a one-word escape route that’s difficult to pass up. To satisfy you and move on with their lives, all they need to do is tell you what you want to hear—even if they don’t genuinely agree. In this way, asking yes-oriented questions can inspire counterfeit or tepid deals that don’t hold up during implementation. When you ask someone, “Do you disagree?” you open yourself up to correction, making it possible for them to express their honest opinion without creating conflict.

Asking yes-oriented questions also limits your learning opportunities. In any negotiation, your persuasive abilities are limited to what you know. In order to build trust and influence, you must uncover “known unknowns” (things you know you don’t know going into the negotiation) and “unknown unknowns” (things you don’t know you don’t know until they are revealed). Both types of unknowns will exist in every negotiation—it’s up to you to uncover them.

As a general rule, people love to correct. Yes-oriented questions leave no room to exercise this natural impulse. By giving your counterpart the option to say “no,” you also create space for them to explain why they disagree. Creating this opportunity for explanation will help you understand their core drives and empower you to communicate more effectively.

Executing a “No” Strategy

Taking a “no” approach to negotiation can involve more than just no-oriented questions.

Labels are also great tools to use if you’re genuinely unsure of something or if you’re trying to get a handle on the underlying conversation dynamic. Similar to a no-oriented question, a mislabel (when executed with the appropriate tone) invites your counterpart to correct you and expand on what they mean. Once they do so, use another label to demonstrate understanding, followed by a calibrated question to find out more. For example, “It sounds like I missed something. How do we get back on track?”

In addition to learning the right techniques, executing a “no” strategy requires a change in your negotiation mindset. Too often, salespeople and other professionals who negotiate frequently have a “yes” addiction, which flows both ways. In addition to fishing for a “yes,” you are consequently very vulnerable to the counterfeit “yes”—the “yes” that is given just to make you shut your mouth.  The negotiator with the “no” strategy will never fall victim to this dynamic. Human beings love to be agreed with and told they are on the right track and wanting approval is in our bones. It’s not an easy shift to put yourself in a place where you are seeking correction or additional thought. However, people don’t come to the negotiation table to tell you how great you are, also a human nature. Which human nature trait do you plan on using to your advantage? To truly implement a “no” strategy, it’s important to channel your emotional intelligence to recognize and correct these habits in your own communication.

For more expert negotiation tips and techniques to use at work, download our latest e-book below.

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