I am completely convinced by the usefulness of the “yes, and… but” tool as a means of tactfully rejecting a customer’s proposal. I have had both first-hand and third-hand experience of it moving the conversation forward much better. Even so, I am often still asked the following questions:
- But what if the customer is a good friend – can’t I just say no then?
- If I have a customer that always says just no to me, can’t I just do the same too?
- If I have already said no to the customer and they took it really well, then doesn’t that make your tool unnecessary?
These are hard questions to answer because in each case we must take into account: (1) how necessary is it for the customer to form a connection with you, and (2) the relationship between you and the customer which would affect how effectively the no was communicated.
The Need to Form a Connection
A fundamental need from birth is to know that we are important to another human being. For a baby this is a matter of staying alive. For a grown-up it’s not quite as serious, but it is still a pressing need.
This ties together many of our universal basic needs, such as feeling a sense of belonging, respect, being acknowledged, acceptance, companionship, being seen, heard, understood, and cared about.
We Also Have These Needs At Work
The better our homelife and relationships with friends, the easier it is for us to cater for these needs at work. The more we are respected, seen, and heard by our loved ones, and the better we get along with ourselves, the less we are offended by others trespassing on those needs.
This does not mean that you never feel bad when someone is not appreciative of you, but we are more capable of dismissing the situation more easily if the need to feel respected are fulfilled by friends and family. If things are difficult at home and relationships with friends don’t provide this, then rejections and being ignored at work become harder to handle.
Because people have very different backgrounds and personal lives, we react very differently in communication situations. That is why, every now and then, you can say no to a customer quite plainly, and they won’t think anything of it. Someone else however might react differently and assume a defensive position that is loud and active, or silent and passive.
For one person, a ‘no’ is just a ‘no’, but for another it could be a slap in an already grief-stricken face.
Respect Shines Through
The way a no is taken depends, of course, on the personal relationship between you and the customer, and the intention with which it was said. If you and I have a good, respectful, and trusting relationship, I can rely on your no being well-intended. You are not turning down my proposition out of spite, ill will, to embarrass me, to show off, to boss me around, or to walk all over me. It’s simply because you genuinely think that this is the way that will best take us forward.
And if you really respect me as a person and take me seriously, your no will be said in a very different tone than one indicating how stupid and infuriating you thought my proposal was. Our regard for each other permeates our micro-expressions, gestures, and non-verbal communication. To be honest even the “yes, and… but” tool is not going to work if deep down you are cursing the person to hell.
So in Reply to Those Who Asked:
- If you know the customer well, you have a good relationship, and you know the customer is confident, then it is possible to just say no.
- If the customer is the kind of person who always gives you a straight no, this is not enough to be sure that they will take the same from you.
- If you said no to a customer once and that went down well, you can probably do the same in the future too. A no delivered with the same level of mutual respect might even work with another customer too.
Most importantly, respect and appreciate your customer, so perhaps try it out gently at first and listen carefully. This will make the no easier to take.
TL;DR: Can I just say no to a customer?
- If the customer’s need to form a connection is fully catered for and they are confident, they can take a straight no
- If your relationship with the customer is good and you respect one another, they can take a straight no
- If you truly respect and appreciate the customer as a person, this will be heard in your voice and the no is less harsh.
- If, however, the customer’s need to form a connection is not fully catered for, they are not confident, and you don’t have sufficient respect for them as a person, then try the “yes, and… but” tool.