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Communication Skills: How To Get Buy-in Starting With “No”

By |May 08, 2017

Think of this as “You had me at ‘no’” meets “think like Elon Musk.” 

“Do you want the FBI to be embarrassed?” –effective pause – “What do you want me to do?”

The above example is from our book “Never Split The Difference” where an FBI hostage negotiator – Marti Evelsizer – was negotiating with her (jealous) boss. He wanted to remove her from her position as head of the Pittsburgh FBI Crisis Negotiation Team.

She walked into his office prepared for the worst and used this sequence to walk out with her position intact. 

Why is This “Think Like Elon Musk”?

A recent article about Elon Musk’s reading habits not only cited how much he read growing up (he still does today), but that he made it a point to read books about completely different subjects simultaneously. He was analyzing contrast subjects to look for universal principles or ideas that would transfer from one area to another.

Developing this ability gave him (and will give you) an incredible edge. It’s called “learning transfer” and it’s a superpower.

Learning transfer is taking what you've learned and applying it to a new area. Most people are tentative about learning transfer. That gives those who develop it an incredible edge.

Real World Application

In this case, I've set this up to making learning transfer easy. With a calm – even deferential tone of voice:

  1. Ask a “no-oriented” question
  2. Go silent (effective pause so they can answer)
  3. Follow-up with a calibrated “what” or “how” question
  4. Repeat as necessary

Ask a "No-Oriented" Question

You’ll be stunned at what people will easily and comfortably say “no” to. Stunned.

 Saying “no” makes people feel protected and in control. The secret to gaining the upper hand in a negotiation is giving the other side the illusion of control.

 (For one of the greatest sequences of “no-oriented” questions of all-time watch Ronald Reagan use them here just prior to winning the US presidential election in 1980.)

Go Silent

After asking the “no-oriented” question, pause. Effectively. Give them a chance to answer and relax.

Calibrated Question

Follow-up with a “what” or “how” question. – which continues to give the illusion of control while you actually have the upper hand. 

  • “What do you want me to do?” 
  • “How do you want to proceed?” 
  • “How do we move forward from here?”

With a deferential tone of voice – there is great power in deference. 

Let the process work for you. It will.

You always have in your back-pocket the follow-up “How am I supposed to do that?” prepared for the worst case scenario.

Your calibrated “what” or “how” question combined with “Do you want us (in this original example it was the FBI) to fail?” gives you the chance to turn things around.

These skills give you the opportunity to create buy-in with your counterpart and make great deals.

Practice them in all sorts of situations. Build your instinct and intuition with practice. You’ll reap the benefits.

Good luck!

never split the difference study guide