Before You Say No, Five Steps to Find Your Yes

After the final no, there comes a yes and on that yes, the future of the world hangs.    (Wallace Stevens)

A sales executive friend of mine likes to say that the selling only begins after you’ve heard the first “No”.  I always liked the expression, but it’s only recently that I’ve been thinking more about how great consultants move past a client’s reluctance to move forward on their recommendations… how they move past that initial No.  As I have thought more about it, I have begun to really appreciate the wisdom in my friend’s saying.

Salespeople call an early attempt to gain customer commitment a “trial close”. When the answer to that trial close is No, many (maybe most) of them decide that the deal is not likely to happen and they walk away. The skilled salespeople use that first “no” to energize themselves. They become intensely interested in understanding what it will take to get to the Yes.  And then, the real selling begins…

In many of his talks, Peter Block tells a story about a young man who asks his beloved, “Will you marry me?” She energetically says, “No!”   His response:  “Great, then we can talk!”   Inwardly, he is thinking, “Game On!!!”   He’s obviously been listening to my sales friend.

Block also speaks eloquently about the usefulness of well managed conflict to define the win-win crucial to effective consulting.  I love his quote, “Insight resides in moments of tension.” (Block 2011 )

William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s program on negotiation and author of “The Power of A Positive No”(Ury 2007) , says it this way:

“Perhaps the single biggest mistake we make when we say No is to start from No. We derive our No from what we are against – the other’s demand or behavior. A Positive No calls on us to do the exact opposite and base our No on what we are for. Instead of starting from No, start from Yes. Root your No in a deeper Yes – a Yes to your core interests and to what really matters.”

Five steps to finding your Yes:

  1. When you first hear whatever it is that infuriates you and you want to scream “No” back, notice your emotions.  What are you feeling, and how intensely?
  2. Step back, and do whatever it takes to give yourself some time to recover and regain control. Feign a coughing spell, or decide to call a break for some coffee.  Whatever it takes.
  3. Remind yourself that managed conflict is the most positive step you can take to get to the outcome you want, to your Yes. This is a good thing!
  4. Ask yourself, what Yes are you seeking that is inconsistent with their No? Unpack and rediscover your most basic needs and the values.  Which are relevant, here?  Let these questions help you be clear about what you really want and need in this situation.  Your Yes.
  5. Distill your thinking down to a specific interest in this situation. When you get around to exploring that interest with your partner, it will give you confidence and it will make it easier for them to understand your Yes, and align it to theirs.

This series of steps has more moving parts that I can cover in a short article.  Check out Ury’s excellent chapter on Discover Your Yes (Ury 2007) for a much more complete discussion.

Epilogue: 

“A No uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘Yes” merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble”      (Mahatma Ghandi)

The young woman in Block’s story begins the real courtship with her honest “No”.  Her suitor wisely recognizes that No as the beginning of the dialogue that he hopes will get him to Yes.

How will you handle it, the next time someone tells you No?  And why did you wait so long to ask the question?

Great Reads:

Block, P. (2011 ). Flawless consulting: a guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley.

Ury, W. (2007). The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes. New York, Bantam Dell.

About Jim Cooper

Jim Cooper is a leadership consultant and executive coach. He is the founder and principal of Ascendent Leadership LLC. Jim focuses his work on helping firms to develop their leadership skills, team effectiveness, and emotional intelligence and to support that development with coaching. He is especially committed to helping leaders deploy coaching skills broadly within their organizations. Jim believes that world class leaders: 1. Understand that true success “is not just about the numbers” 2. Lead from a mindset of serving their teams and enabling their personal growth and success 3. Help their teams see their individual roles as critically linked to the success of the organizations mission, and the success of others that they care about within the organization 4. Focus their teams on building the commitment to excellence and personal growth that make success a habit and truly sustainable over their lives and careers 5. Create a sustainable coaching culture by broadly deploying coaching skills through their leadership ranks.
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