Your negotiation journey - part five: start with no

Updated: Sep 23

Constantin Papadopoulos is a freelance B2B marketing & sales consultant.

The following nine techniques/skills will improve the outcome of your negotiations. While these techniques are simple and effective, your negotiation success will come from applying them regularly. The best part of these techniques is that you can use them in your daily life. So what is the fifth technique? I first read about it in the bestseller - Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and I dove deeper in this approach with Jim Camp's Start with No. So with no surprises, the fifth technique is:

Start with "no"

Why no?

No is a negotiation starter, its beginning state. Both parties have yet to agree to something, anything. Seasoned negotiators seek the negative from their counterparts very early in the negotiation process. As Chris Voss writes "Saying "no" gives the speaker the feeling of safety, security, and control." Why? Here is a simple example. Read these two questions and ask yourself, which one makes you feel more comfortable:

  • Would you have five minutes to discuss this topic?

  • Is this a bad time to ask for five minutes of your time?

While very similar, these two questions trigger different emotions for the respondent. In the first case, if he says "yes" he will feel like surrendering to the person asking the question. In the second case, by saying "no" the respondent feels in control.


Surrender the perceived feeling of control

As professionals who have been trained to manage complex situations, the feeling of control is something your counterpart seeks every hour of every day. Give them opportunities to exit the negotiation table. By doing so, you will not appear as needy. The sense of control which you surrender to your counterpart pays dividends. We all are more generous with our time/resources in a position of total control. By surrendering the perceived control, you are planning your next move, you are ready for any situation. You will not act surprised by your counterpart's response. Your emotions will be in check and this will make the interaction more enjoyable for both parties.


Leverage "no" if the negotiation is stalling

It has happened to all of us. We invest time and energy in a negotiation. Everything seemed to be going smoothly and suddenly your counterpart becomes vague, the time in-between responses extends. What shall you do? The answer is simple, address the elephant in the room. Here's an example that you can use and has proven to be effective. "Hi John, it seems to me that your interest in the project has declined. My last two emails did not get a response from your company. Have you given-up on our collaboration project? Please let me know so that I can plan ahead. Kind regards, Constantin"


Don't be afraid of saying no

Igor Ryzov puts it very simply:

“A great number of unprofitable contracts and loss-making deals come about for two reasons: the negotiator is afraid of saying “no” and the negotiator is afraid of getting a ”no”.

  1. Whenever you receive a proposal or request, ask yourself a few questions

  2. When making me this tempting offer or asking me to do this service, what do they actually want from me?

  3. Does this conflict with my own interests?

  4. Will it (what they are offering me) benefit me?

  5. Would it be worthwhile for me to accept such terms?

2. If the proposal isn’t worthwhile, just say “no”.”


Now you have put your counterpart in the comfortable shoes of perceived control. It is time to look at your journey's sixth technique: asking questions.






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