The Power of "No"

Jan 24, 2019

Most of us were taught that whether in school, at home, or at work, to gain the cooperation of others we have to compromise, that is, offer to give something up. We’re told that every negotiation requires a win-win solution so that everyone leaves a little bit happy. But the truth is, compromising, wanting people to like you, and worrying about other people’s happiness won’t help you get ahead in your career.

There’s a better way to get what you want. Instead of offering to compromise, the world’s best negotiators start with “no.” This isn’t as harsh as it sounds. On the contrary, the “no” system of negotiation is direct, fair, and honest.

If your goal this year is to be more assertive, reach and surpass career objectives, stand up for your beliefs, gain more influence on the job, and win the respect of coworkers, colleagues, and clients, the “no” system of negotiating is a great way to achieve these goals.

Here is an eight-step way to get what you want in the year ahead:

  1. Start with “no.” Resist the urge to compromise. If you offer a lower price to a prospect or a low-ball raise to an HR manager, for instance, you expose your need to make them happy, and the other person immediately adopts the alpha or predator role. Instead, start by inviting the other person to say no to your (better) proposal—but don’t tell him or her what it is yet. Tell the other party that you will not take no as a personal rejection, but as an honest decision that can be discussed and perhaps reversed. A shrewd negotiating partner will view you with more respect; a naive one will feel safer.
  2. Never think about finishing the deal. Before you enter into a negotiation—and while you’re in it—don’t think about, hope for, or plan for the outcome of the deal. In business school, you were probably taught the opposite: Close the deal. In the No system, you focus instead on what you can control: your behavior and activity during the negotiation. That’s all you need to focus on. Doing so will help you navigate around emotional minefields.
  3. Learn as much as you can. Before you meet with the other party—whether it’s a prospective new client or a department head in your company—learn everything you can about him or her and how you might fit into their world. Have facts and figures at the ready. Become a scholar of the subject and all of its complications. If you’re trying to get a meeting with a new client, for example, find out everything you can about your competition. If you’re proposing a new initiative at work, be an expert on how it will benefit the other party.
  4. Face the problems you see standing in your way. Before the meeting, identify everything you can think of that might come up during the negotiation—their baggage and yours. Write down everything you believe needs addressing so you can bring these points up in the meeting. Facing, not ignoring, the problems will benefit your side. Never ignore an elephant in the room. For instance, if you’re looking to transfer to another division in your company because you think you’d be better suited for that kind of work, be honest and direct about your own limitations and those of your current position.
  5. Leave all emotions outside the door. Turn your mind into a blank slate. Exercise self-control so you have no expectations, fears, or judgments. Above all, overcome all neediness, the number-one deal-killer. Let’s say you want to be promoted to a management job that has just become vacant. When you go into that meeting, leave your excitement, nervousness, self-doubt, and all other problematic feelings outside. The more neutral you appear and behave, the better your odds are of success. Emotions have no place in negotiation—unless it’s the other person’s emotions, in which case you’ll gain the strategic advantage.
  6. Get the other person to reveal his or her problems. In any negotiation, listen more than you talk. Don’t give a presentation, which only gives the other party things to object to. Instead, ask great questions that begin with what, why, how, when, and where. Find out what the other party wants so you can offer your proposal as a solution. The world’s best negotiators get others to spill the beans and collect valuable information they can use to customize a solution perfectly tailored to the other party’s needs. In the process, these shrewd negotiators get exactly what they want.
  7. Build a mission and purpose rooted in the other person’s world. Every negotiation, whether it’s asking for a raise or making a sale, needs a mission and purpose. Your M&P is to help the other person see how your three or four top features—which you have thought out beforehand—will benefit the other person and help him or her achieve key objectives. For example, let’s say you want to be the director of a new product division at your company. Your M&P wouldn’t be, “I want this new position so I can learn new skills and have new job challenges.” That M&P is rooted in your world. Instead, it would be something like: “I want to leverage my skills, contacts, and influence to make our company more competitive in a new product category.”
  8. Build a vision for the other person. Help your negotiating partner see how giving you a good deal is to his advantage. Without a solid vision—the one you are building for the other person—he will take no action and there will be no decision or agreement on his part. Spend all of your time getting information about the other person’s world, understanding the challenges he anticipates, and the problems he sees—so you can state his vision for him and present yourself as the solution.