Fight the Urge to Say NO

If you’re one of those people who find it hard to say no to anything, this text is not for you at all. But if you are one of the people for whom NO comes naturally and is more or less your default reaction, this is.

When a customer proposes something you disagree with, that doesn’t sit easily with you, or is just plain wrong, does a “no” like one of those below immediately leap out of your mouth?

  • No, that’s not a good idea.
  • No, that’s not the way to do it.
  • No, I wouldn’t do that.
  • No, that won’t work.
  • No, it can’t be done.
  • NO.

And does this “no” come out as a reflex, without you really having time to even notice that you have already answered? No doubt you have good reasons to respond in such a way. You have, perhaps in a fraction of a second, analysed the situation in your subconsciousness and arrived at the conclusion “no”.

But to the other party it might not seem that way; to the customer it seems like you didn’t even consider the option and turned it down without so much as a second’s thought.

No Sounds Like Rejection

When we make proposals, come up with ideas, and take part we put ourselves in a vulnerable position. We reveal something of ourselves. The customer is putting themselves out in the open when they voice their ideas out loud.

If their proposal is abruptly rejected, it feels like a mental rap on the knuckles. Depending on their confidence, and the thickness of their skin, the customer’s feelings will range from slightly uncomfortable to severely embarrassed.

In any case, in a situation like this they will take a mental step back from you. OK. Perhaps not then.

Grudges and Missed Opportunities

Being rejected or embarrassed can have three rather serious consequences.  One is that the customer might stop making suggestions and coming up with ideas. This is, of course, very bad for the end result, because some of the ideas the customer has might be very good: important information and insights they have will no longer be shared if the customer feels they are not wanted.

The second consequence is that there will be less cooperation. Most people want to be in a situation where people appreciate their ideas and listen to them – even if they are not carried out. But if the customer gets a severe (albeit justified) no, this can leave an unpleasant taste.

The third and most serious consequence is that the no may create a longstanding grudge which may possibly spiral out of control into taking revenge: the next time you suggest something to your customer, you are met with an unambiguous no – however good your suggestion was. There – have a taste of your own medicine – now you know what it’s like.

How To Say No Without Actually Saying the Word

But if the customer’s proposal really is one that must be met with a no, what can you do? The first thing you must do is pause for a second before answering, so that the no doesn’t slip out without you noticing; then dig out the tried and tested way of answering “yes, and… but…”.

By continuing the sentence with an and – some scenario in which the customer’s proposal might be considered – you’re making the best of it. “Yes, I’ve also used this plug-in for a long time”, for instance, or “yes, that’s right, and if we wanted to use another interface, this is how it could be done”.

It is important that what you say is sincere. Remember that almost any suggestion, even the most ludicrous, will have some angle it can be seen from that makes sense.

Only after this, is it time for the but part which voices your main reservations: “…but since we now have this other plug-in, which has all these great extra features, I would recommend using that instead” or “…but because of information security reasons I’m afraid this is not possible”.

“Yes And… But…” is a Gentle No

The secret behind this formula is that it softens the blow of rejection. The customer does not feel like a complete idiot or inept fool. Their ego is not completely rushed and spirits remain high. The customer can feel that you are genuinely cooperating.

Because the customer is sharing their idea in good faith, however absurd it may be (they are not doing it to spite you for instance), it’s good to try and approach it sincerely and gently. It might even be the case that once you give it some thought, there is actually something worthwhile in it too. In this way you won’t paint yourself into a corner by turning down an idea without due consideration that may have been a good one after all.

It pays to practise using the formula long enough for it to to take root. It should become your default answer instead of no; and you’re welcome to come and practise it at our Slack Workspace!

TL;DR: Control your urge to say NO

  • If the customer proposes something, they are putting themselves in a vulnerable position
  • A plain no feels like an uncomfortable rejection and if it reoccurs may cause problems in the customer relationship
  • Use yes, and… to seriously consider those circumstances where the customer’s idea could be useful and but… to offer your ideas after this.
  • This model is a more gentle approach and leaves the customer with the feeling that their ideas are valued even if their proposal is eventually not accepted.

Or what do you think?

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