No's Are Your Friend in a Negotiation


Not going to work.

We can't do that.

Rejection sucks. But you're going to get a lot of "no's" before you get to that final yes. And, believe it or not, no's are your friend on the way to a successful negotiation because you start to narrow down your conflict points and find areas of alignment. Let's dive in.

On the Way to a Yes

"No" means the current option isn't feasible. It doesn't mean you'll never get to a "yes." On the contrary, every "no" takes you closer to your goal. By eliminating possibilities, you can focus on realistic options.

Every "no" opens up new possibilities. Maybe the person you're negotiating with has an ulterior motive, and you weren't aware of it? Perhaps they're looking for something else you can provide that they don't know how to ask for? The only way to find out is to keep talking and explore all options. Push through that no!

However, the more collaborative your negotiation is, the less you would want to eliminate options altogether. It's important to give the other party clarity on what is and isn't desirable without outright rejecting them. In collaborative negotiations, you want to keep all options available as long as possible.

Consider using language like:

  • "That's a challenge but we'll look into it"
  • "We can work with some of this if we tweak a few things. Let me get back to you."
  • "Building on your request..."

The worst answer is "maybe"

Nothing is more frustrating than a tentative yes. It means that the other person doesn’t commit fully, and they could still back out. The tentativeness is often worse than a straight-up "no" because it gives you false hope. It's important to remember that until you have a signed contract, nothing is concrete. So only celebrate once the deal is done and dusted.

But, just like anything else, "maybes" have their place. They can act as a placeholder as you focus on other areas of the deal, but make sure you flip a maybe to a yes or a no before the end.

Remember, when you're negotiating, your ultimate goal is a resounding "yes." But it will take many "no's" to get there. So keep track of your progress and realize that every "no" brings you one step closer to your goal. And every "no" also opens up new possibilities. So don't be discouraged by early setbacks—keep pushing forward, and eventually, you'll get what you want.

Aligned DEMYSTIFIES what successful negotiation looks like