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There are no nos


Disciplines > Negotiation > Negotiation articles > There are no nos

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Never accept an outright refusal. Take the motto that 'There are no nos'.

When they say 'no' re-interpret this as meaning something other than 'I will not agree'. For example it can mean:

  • I am not yet ready to agree
  • You are making me feel uncomfortable
  • I do not understand
  • I don't think I can afford it
  • I want something else before I will agree
  • I need more information before I agree
  • I want to talk it over with someone else

So, use words like 'yet', 'if', 'when' and so on, assuming that there is a reason for them saying 'no', and that when this is addressed, they will say 'yes'.


What would it take to make you say yes?

Ok, so it's not right yet. Let's keep talking. I'd like to understand more of how you are thinking.

You're right, I've not been clear. Tell you what, let's go and look at it. You'll love it when you see it.


'No' is a statement of perception far more often than of fact. It seldom means 'I have considered all the facts and made a rational choice'. A trap into which many negotiators fall is to take people literally.

People like to feel certain, so they say 'no' when they feel uncomfortable, pushing back with refusal, trying to make you stop so they can recover their composure. There are two approaches you can take when faced with this flight: increasing stress until they give in (coercion) or backing off to reduce stress, showing concern that increases trust and then using gentler levers to gain a more lasting agreement.

Addressing 'no' in negotiations is the same as objection-handling in sales and resistance to change in businesses. The basic problem is a lack of agreement and the classic approach is reframing.

Sometimes no does mean no. When you have tried various ways to reframe, then perhaps you will have to accept refusal, though the anticipation of this should never be an excuse to not try converting a no into a yes. Watch for signs of frustration or anger. These can be indicators of a good point at which to back off. Yet you may still persist as agreement may yet be on the other side of anger. It is fear of anger that puts many off pressing against a 'no'. Be brave and you may be rewarded.

See also

Theories about resistance, Defensive body language, Fallacies, Coping Mechanisms, Resisting persuasion, Resistance to change, Review: Getting Past No, Objection-handling techniques and methods

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