Business Negotiation March 24, 2015

The Firm “No” Response

There are people who respond to any new idea presented to them or any opening offer in negotiation with a firm “No.” They usually do so with a view to reducing the other person’s expectations or by ending the talks as quickly as possible. Of course, both are legitimate negotiating objectives, even if they are not conducive to fostering better relations between the parties.

This firm “No” approach is sometimes used by buyers in commercial negotiations when they have considerable power and wish to leverage that strength to achieve a goal they have already decided on. The seller is told, “This is my final offer. Take-it-or-leave it.”

If you are going to respond to someone’s idea or position with a firm opening “No,” minimize the hostility they will surely feel. Never use the phrase, “Take-it-or-leave-it.” It is unnecessarily incendiary and invites retribution. When a firm “No” is backed by facts, good precedents or history, it is less onerous. So also when the “No” is defended by existing organization policies, procedures or published constraints. Yet, however politely a firm “No” is rendered, it will be resented.

Time is also a factor in determining how the “No” will be accepted. If the other person is provided adequate time to present and defend their position or idea they will not resent the “No” as much. Whether a firm “No” is expressed early or late in the talks makes a difference. A “No” expressed late in the bargaining process is apt to be received with less bad feeling.

What can you do when the other opens the talks with a firm “No” to your “great” idea or “reasonable” offer? My advice is: test the rejection hard. It may not be as rigid as it appears.

Several options are available. The best, I believe, is to broaden the nature of the deal under discussion. Expand the problem or differences to be resolved to include other matters of interest to both sides such as service, work product or quality considerations not covered by the “No” response.

In addition to broadening the matter or issue, you may test the “No” by using one of these ideas:

  1. Saying the words, “But it doesn’t apply in this case,” usually opens the door to further interest on the part of the other side. They will wonder why so you will have to spend time preparing for the “Why” and come up with some reasonably good reasons. The negotiating dialogue that follows will allow you to also discuss other aspects of your basic position.
  2. Another approach that works surprisingly well is to continue speaking as though you never heard the “No.”
  3. Find a face-saving way for the person who said “No” to retreat from their position. In a strange way, the person who says “No” in a rigid way has trapped themselves into an awkward, inflexible position. They need a good way out or they won’t retreat.

By far the best way to provide the other side with a face-saving avenue to move from “No” or any other strong position is to suggest a collaborative search for a better way by which both sides might benefit. I you can then offer one potential idea, they are likely to listen and come up with possibilities of their won.

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