Negotiating in Life, Negotiating Tips, Business Negotiation April 29, 2010

Yes or No? Get an answer.

In business negotiations, we are usually looking to get a “yes.” Yes means agreement and generally indicates that we are ready to move forward. Anthony Tjan, CEO of venture capital firm Cue Ball, writes on his Harvard Business Review blog that sometimes you want to get to “no.”

“No” seems counter intuitive. We don’t want a no because it means that we have been denied, that we won’t get what we want. But as Tjan argues, “no” can often move a negotiation along. He writes:

“A yes is obviously the answer you always hope to get, but the ability to get a no, especially if it is a quick one, is critical to maximizing efficiency and effectiveness. The sooner you get a no, the faster you'll be able to look for that next yes.”

Basically, Tjan is arguing that decisiveness or getting clear-cut answers moves a negotiation forward. When the other party is unsure and gives you a maybe, then you are going to be stuck on that issue. It’s not clear cut. “Maybe” is never a good answer, whereas “yes” or “no” are actionable.

Tjan gives four tips to drive a decision. The first one is the most important:

“Be clear on the "ask". I have seen people pitch us with brilliant clarity of ideas, but a cloud of ambiguity on what they want from an investment partner in terms of both capabilities and dollars.”

In order to get a clear cut answer, you have to ask a specific question—a question that requires a yes or no answer.

Read Anthony Tjan’s blog post here: http://blogs.hbr.org/tjan/2010/04/how-to-get-to-no.html

The bottom line is that when you get no for an answer you have gotten a response. In a business negotiation you are not only looking to get your way, you are looking to engage and discuss with the other party. When the answer is maybe, or the question is not even discussed, you are not engaging and not moving forward.

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