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Is No Just the Beginning or the Absolute End?

What does it mean to you when someone says, “No.”

In the last A Good Point! post Yes. Because I Can't Say No, we highlighted how saying yes to one thing creates an automatic no to another.

Here’s another point to consider about no. When someone offers a simple no, they control the conversation. That's it! Full stop; conversation over. Or is it?

Is the subject closed? Maybe it is, or maybe it isn't.

quote bubble made of paper
Figuring out what they mean

Do you automatically view no as a challenge and try to persuade the other person to say yes? That might work well if the naysayer is waiting for you to bring more options, or it might backfire and irritate them because they said a simple "no" and meant "absolutely not!"

Good communicators know there are ways to explore someone’s no without disrespecting their choices.

When they say no

You can ask, "Is it not now, or not ever?"

This works because you’re simply asking them to clarify their answer without asking for a reason, while still acknowledging their independence. Depending on the tone of voice of the person who said no, even asking for more can seem like a rude challenge. If they didn’t give a reason, they might not want to discuss it, or they could be waiting for a more enticing offer from you. Ask them.

"What would you prefer?"

Assuming their no was simply to the last option you offered, there might be room for negotiation. This lets them know you understand their choice and invites them to continue the conversation.

"Are you open to me bringing other ideas?"

Use this sparingly, if at all. Are you ready to play the ‘Bring It To Me, and I’ll Think About It’ game? It’s easy to get sucked into the morass of manipulation if you’re not wary of how one-sided this can become. You'll know it's happening when you hear, “No, I don’t like that one either. Keep trying.” Then your response should be, "Please tell me what you'd like instead."

When you say no

Gauge who you’re speaking with to decide if you should add a reason for declining. The people who take no as a challenge will increase the pressure to try to coax you into accepting what they want you to do. If you think giving them a reason is a graceful way to tell them why you’ve said no, think again!

In reality, your reason is taken as simply a starting point for their sales and lobbying efforts. I remember a friend exclaiming to his son, “I said no! Stop trying to lawyer me.” It was interesting to see look on the teen's face while he thought about what he said that annoyed his father.

underwater photo of diver and shark
Does swimming with sharks sound enticing?

Unless you want to be persuaded to conquer your fears, the next time you’re asked to go swimming with sharks, try a simple “No. Thank you.” It's easier and more productive than “No, I don’t want to go because I’m terrified.” Otherwise your shark-diving friend might take your terror lightly and ramp up the sales talk to convince you why you're both silly and naive to be afraid of a shark with teeth the size of your hand.

You can always keep the conversation going by adding, “But I’d say yes to hiking. That’s more my speed.”

You've read both posts and know a lot more about saying what saying no can mean. How will you apply your insights to your advantage?

Stay tuned for the next post that talks about ways to have a straightforward, non-manipulative, positive-emotion conversation that helps everyone get to yes, with minimal fuss and annoyance.

As always, I'm interested in hearing from you: suggestions, comments, and your stories. Why? Because everything I work toward is about helping people get to feeling masterful, one conversation at a time.


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