The Different Ways to Say “No” – September 2011 Master Negotiator

Figures on a chalk board saying no - Peter Barron Stark CompaniesIn a negotiation, there are times when you have to tell your counterpart “No.” The challenge is that for some people, the word “no” is the equivalent of a four letter word. Telling your counterpart a resounding “No,” could cause the negotiation to deteriorate to the point that neither counterpart is able to achieve a win-win outcome.

Currently, the major grocery store chains of Ralphs, Albertsons and Vons are in negotiations over a contract defining new wage and benefits. The grocery stores want their employees to take on more responsibility in paying for their health care benefits. Both sides have said a resounding, “No,” to each other’s proposals and at this point, there is a threat of a strike. Because of the damage done to both sides in the strike that occurred two contract negotiations ago, it is our prediction that this mediation will be resolved without progressing to a strike. So, when you need to say, “No,” what are other options that may help resolve the disagreement. The following 8 tips will help to move your negotiation forward:

  1. Just say it: Although uncomfortable for some people, the easy way to tell a counterpart, “No,” without any mixed signals is simply to look them in the eye and say, “No, I am not going to agree to that.”

  2. Conditional ‘No’: This technique works exceptionally well for the amiable person who does not like looking people square in the eye and telling them an outright, “No.” Instead of telling your counterpart, “No, I can’t/won’t do that for you,” use a ‘conditional no’ and say, “I can’t get the project done for you this week, but I can work on it later this month, if that will work for you.”

  3. Anticipate the Objection: Before your counterpart asks you for something that you cannot agree to, say something like, “I know your members feel they have earned the right to their health benefits. In today’s economy, though, with our margins shrinking to the lowest levels in our history, we can no longer continue to carry the full burden paying for the same portion of health care expenses.”

  4. If-then: In some situations, if your counterpart was willing to meet certain conditions, you would not then have to say “No.” For example, “If you could agree to get your members to pay $100 per month toward their health care, instead of the $150.00 we were originally asking you to do, then we could make this work.”

  5. Selective Agreement: In this situation, you can actually agree to a portion of what your counterpart says without saying, “No,” to the entire statement. For example, you state, “I am in agreement with you that your members, if given the choice, would allow us to pay their entire health care plan for years to come.” Although you partially agreed, you made no comments regarding whether you were willing to make a concession or not.

  6. If You Were Me: When your counterpart makes a request that makes no sense for you to agree to, one great way to counter is to ask a great question like, “If you were in my shoes representing our shareholders, how could you agree to a health care concession that will bankrupt the business and leave everyone without a job?”

  7. Ask for Clarification: Before ever saying, “No,” to your counterpart, don’t assume you know exactly what they are asking. Ask clarifying questions to gain a better understanding. With a better understanding, you may be able to use one of the above options rather than an outright “No.”

  8. I will think about it and get back to you: In certain situations, it may be in your best interest to not tell your counterpart, “No.” For example, if you are not sure if you have another option with a different counterpart, you may want to keep your options open. Let your counterpart know that you will think about it and get back to them. One caution with this option: amiable people use this option when they do not feel comfortable saying “No.” They will tell you they will get back to you when they have no intention of doing so. They use this strategy to simply give them distance from their counterpart and buy time.

Use these strategies to help you and your counterpart achieve a win-win outcome, even when you have to say, “No.”

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