"No" Doesn't Exactly Mean "No"
Master negotiators say the negotiation doesn’t truly begin until the parties reach impasse.
Back at the dawn of my negotiation career, this made as much sense to me as a zen koan. You know, like the sound of one hand clapping.
Eight years after leaving legal practice, hundreds of mediations, scores of speaking and training gigs and dozens of consulting clients later, I know from experience that the word “no” signals the beginning, not the end, of any value-creating negotiation.
People don’t like conflict.
I’ve been told by marketing gurus that selling conflict resolution to the general public is a tricky proposition because people’s primary response to conflict is denial.
What conflict? I don’t have any conflict in my life. Things are going just fine.
If I upset the precarious balance between me and my organization, my boss and my working group, my spouse and my in-laws, everything might come tumbling down.
No. I don’t need any conflict resolution. Everything in my household and in my ‘hood is just fine thank you very much.
People dislike conflict so much that they tend to commence their negotiations (if they’re willing to negotiate at all) in what I call the nano- and stratospheres.
The party from whom something is asked, offers way too little and the one who is doing the asking, seeks way too much.
That way, neither party has to worry about fighting about anything.
They’re still sitting on their chairs at opposite ends of the boxing ring.
At this stage of the negotiation, the word “no” is a signal for you to get up off your stool and put your teeth guard in.
You might even move a few steps closer to your “opponent.”
Here, the word “no” means the game is on.
Neither party is going to be a dope by putting or leaving too much on the table.
The negotiation games may now commence.
People Tend to Believe “No” Means “No”
Here’s what “no” actually means.
“No” means, I don’t want exactly that or I can’t do that on those terms or I can’t figure out a way to make that happen.
It means, I have to satisfy someone else’s needs or there are hidden constraints on my ability to say “yes.”
It means I am serving an interest [quarterly sales goals for instance] that I’m afraid to tell you about; or I don’t have the authority to say yes.