Why 'No' May Be the Answer You Want to Hear

We all like to hear a resounding “yes” in response to our questions. But sometimes, a “no” can get us what we really want.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #413

In your quest to become a superhero, there are a lot of skills you need to develop. Like leaping tall buildings, or negotiating with international kidnappers. Leaping tall buildings takes really good quads. Get-Fit-Guy Ben Greenfield can help with that.

But when it comes to hostage negotiations, there’s no one better than Chris Voss, the FBI’s top international kidnapping negotiator. After ordering his book Never Split the Difference. I donned my superhero outfit and asked Chris to teach me superhero negotiating skills (you can hear the whole interview at GetItDoneGuy.com/no). I was taught Getting to Yes, but Chris set me straight. His secret to great negotiating is getting to no!

Yes Is Fake

“What about YES?!” I cried. “Don’t we want them to say Yes?” “Eventually,” said Chris. You want to end at Yes, but you go through No on your way to that Yes. A Yes soon in a negotiation can’t be trusted, because Yes doesn’t always mean Yes.

Some people say Yes to be nice. They’re just too meek to stand up for themselves. Or they’re a dastardly villain, being nice to keep you distracted while their henchmen infiltrate your secret Fortress of Superness. 

I was in the market for a Super-Mobile. The first used car lot I visited had the perfect car! The salesbeing said “It’ll be $5,000.” I countered, “How about $1,000? I’m a new superhero and need the car to do superhero stuff!” He said “Yes.” I jumped for joy! 

I wasn’t jumping an hour later, after the salesbeing pointed out that a true superhero needs vertical take-off and landing gear, adamantium hubcaps, flame throwers, and a financing plan. Which all added up to $5,000, and he knew it going in. His Yes was just a super villainous ruse. 

You can’t count on a Yes. 

Trying for Yes Freaks People Out

Besides, pushing too hard for Yes makes enemies. The telephone rings. “Hi!” says a cheerful voice. “Do you ever drink water?” Really? Water? They are asking because they obviously want us to say Yes. Then they’ll lead into a request for money or a sales pitch. We resent them for forcing the Yes, and at the first possible opportunity, we find a way to disengage. 

Don’t be that telemarketer! You want to be a Superhero who rescues troubled negotiations from the bottom of the well of disagreement, not a sleazy, 2nd-rate villain who tries too hard for Yes and pushes the negotiations into the well in the first place.

(OK, so the metaphor needs work. But I’m training to be a superhero, not a, er, metaphor-telling guy.)

No Is For Reals

Instead, go for no. Yes might not mean Yes, but No does mean No. No gets real. Stripping away the false Yes lays bare their real desires and kicks off the real negotiation. You’ve found their real line-of-no-return.

But remember! They’re there because they want agreement. So after they’ve said No, start engaging them. Ask questions like, “What would work for you?” After they’ve said No, the doorway is open for exploration.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.