Getting to ‘Yes’

By Heather Campbell

How to Turn No into YesBy Heather Campbell >>

When you want your boss, or colleague, or customer to say ‘Yes’ to one of your great ideas and instead you get the answer ‘No’ – how do you respond?

Chances are you do one of two things: you either push your point more strongly or you back off. And neither of these gets the results you need.

Pushing the same point annoys the other person and makes you look like an idiot as they refuse your request again; backing off leaves you frustrated at the lack of progress and feeling bad into the bargain.

Of course nobody likes to hear ‘No’ – it’s the verbal equivalent of a door being slammed in your face and a blow to all but the most resilient egos. But recognising that ‘No’ is simply useful information – rather than the end of the line – will help you keep things moving in the direction you want them to go.

So instead of giving up or forcing the point, calmly acknowledge how you feel about the refusal and ask a question to get the other person to give you more information:

“I’m surprised/disappointed/concerned to hear that. What specifically do you dislike about the idea?”

A couple of points for success here. First, acknowledging how you feel means giving a low-key description – it’s not about a major emotional explosion. Second, using qualifier words such as ‘specifically’ or ‘precisely’ increases the likelihood that you will get a precise and detailed answer. Our brains pick up the qualifier at a subconscious level and looks more carefully at the exact reasons. Without this you will get a more generalised response or even “I don’t know”.

Listen carefully to the answer because it’s your key for turning ‘No’ into ‘Yes’. Here’s how to do it.

Let’s say the reason for rejecting your idea is that it’s too expensive. The temptation is to launch into protestations about how cost-effective it really is. That’s irritating. You’ve ignored the validity of the reply and you’ll build their resistance even more as a result. Instead, agree that the point made is fair and ask another question based on it.

With the example of too high a cost, you’d say something like, “I agree there is a risk – costs could be too high. I can see that would make the idea unworkable. So if we could get it within an agreed budget, would you consider it?”

There are only three possible responses to this question: yes, no or maybe. With yes and maybe, you’re onto a winner. You now have the other person’s permission to reopen the discussion, which means you can either go ahead right then to examine costs together or you can agree a time to meet later when you’ve reviewed them.

If you get ‘No’, don’t give up in despair. Once again you’ve simply got more useful information. In this case, you can be certain that the reason given for refusing in the first place either isn’t the real concern, or is only part of it.

Image: Stuart Miles /

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