If there’s one thing that’s true in your life, where you are now is not a result of hearing the word Yes or No, but rather what you have done after hearing it. In most life situations, we take No for Stop and Yes for Go. And Maybe means someone can’t commit to something and should be punched in the face.
But if you want to succeed in business, you need to change your relationship with the word No. To paraphrase The Princess Bride, the word doesn’t mean what you think it means. Simply put, No does not signal the end of a negotiation but rather the beginning of one. So to succeed in your career, you need to learn to love the word No and be suspicious of the word Yes.
This is not a new idea, but rather a well expressed one in former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss’s bestselling book Never Split The Difference. Voss spent years negotiating with kidnappers and hostage takers where the stakes were people lives and compromise was not an option. Based on his research and experience, he shows why No and Yes don’t always mean what you think.
Why you should learn to love No
If you’ve ever talked to a pushy telemarketer trying to sell you a credit card or to get you to make a donation to a political cause, you may have noticed they are always asking you questions so you will say Yes.
For example: “Are you worried about the direction America is going?” or “ Would you like to pay no interest for six months?” Each question is designed to get you to say Yes, so when it comes time to ask you for your money, the hope is you will keep saying Yes.
Of course, you don’t. The Yes question ploy doesn’t work on us most of the time. When we hear questions to get us to say Yes, we get defensive and wary. We feel like we are being lawyered into something we don’t want to do.
However, we like using the word No. As children, No was the first power word we mastered. No gave us strength, No gave us authority, and No made us feel like we were in control. We love to say No because it makes us feel safe. We do not have to commit to anything or change our lives when we say No. And this is why you want to hear No from your counterpart when you do business.
Asking someone a No question makes them feel safe and gives them the illusion of control. It also helps you learn what your counterpart does not want—and allows you to ask questions so you can learn what they do want.
Voss suggests you can follow up with questions such as “What about this doesn’t work for you?” or “What would you need to make it work?” These calibrated questions open up your counterpart to contributing to a solution and make them a partner in the final deal.
Why you should learn to doubt Yes
You do want to hear Yes in a negotiation, but not right away. Certainly not at the beginning. Be suspicious of Yes. Yes often doesn’t mean Go in a business conversation. According to Voss, there are three versions of Yes—counterfeit, confirmation, and commitment—and only one means Go.
The first two types of Yes words are used to fake you out. A counterfeit Yes, for example, is when someone says Yes to appease you, so you’ll stop talking and go away. Other times a counterfeit Yes person wants to keep you talking so you reveal more in the negotiation. Either way, the person has not committed to doing business with you.
A confirmation Yes is just a reflexive response. It’s a space filler. It means the person heard what you said or wants to fill up a conversational pause. It does not mean you have a deal.
The only Yes you want to hear is the commitment Yes. You will know this Yes from the other types of Yes words because the person will follow this Yes with an action or an agreement. But you can’t get to this type of Yes until you hear a lot of Nos first.
So the next time you hear No, don’t get discouraged. Instead think: here is my opportunity to learn more.
Read more: The Chris Voss Show Podcast 50: Pres/Founder Henri Min of Nestivity
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