How to say “No” to get to “Yes”

One of the great skills of a master influencer Is the ability to say “No” without undermining or destroying a relationship upon which they may depend upon.

Often circumstances arise where “No”, is the only effective response.

Maybe a superior or another influencer is making an unreasonable demand. A powerful opponent has lied to you and is demanding an unfair concession. Peers and associates want you to assent to an unwise, unethical, immoral or illegal strategy. You are pressured to say yes, even though you know you need to say no. To say no is likely to create unpleasant conflict and struggle. There may even be unpleasant consequences if you say no.

An effective leader must learn to address inappropriate or abusive behavior of the rigid, one-sided demands of superiors, clients, associates and peers who expect that you will accede to their demands without opposition. Often they will refuse to take your point of view into consideration and have no interest in any agreement that is not completely on their own terms.

The ability to deal with demanding behavior, especially the behavior of those who try to take unfair advantage of a personal or professional relationship is a powerful skill.

The skilled influencer knows how to say no to problematic pressures, demands, situations, behaviors, and situations through the use of constructive engagement rather than destructive conflict.


There are four ways to answer “No” to a request.

  1. Ignore the request (Avoid)
  2. Give them what they are asking for (Accommodate)
  3. Say “No” and state that it is final (Attack)
  4. Say “No” for now and give them an opportunity to ask again at another time or negotiate now. (Agreement). This approach allows you to assert your needs, and engage in a positive, proactive, and respectful engagement. In the end if both players are rational and emotionally balanced the end result is likely to be and equitable agreement that meets the needs of both players.


In #3 “No” is not used to end discussion but rather as a path to “Yes” as you subtly shift  the perceived power balance in a relationship. It is not enough to be willing to negotiate. In all relationships especially those involving negotiation there is always a power imbalance. Sometime this will be obvious but often it is subtle. Until the perceived power imbalance is addressed there is unlikely to be a successful result. Thus it is fair to say that you can’t get to yes without first getting to no: “no” to their behavior and “no” to their demands. In the early stages of any negotiation you are likely to be confronted with contradiction, paradox and ambiquity.

There are a number of core events that will take place as this process unfolds:

  • Successfully defending your interests in relationships.
  • Say “no” when it is the best response and do so in way that allows you initiate a productive interaction.
  • Control your emotional responses,
  • Understand and manage your reaction confrontational and bullying behaviors and tactics.
  • Use the aggression and momentum of an opponent to manage the situation.
  • Use positive confrontation to promote negotiation.
  • Hold your position without having your opponent feeling attacked by your doing so.

Saying no does not need to lead to a destructive outcome. Saying “no” can be a constructive tool that is productive, powerful and positive.

There are a number of elements that come into play in this process. Here is a basic rundown of these:

  • Your Emotional response: Sense memory, cellular memory, and your own emotional history can open the door to old patterns driven by anger, fear and guilt. In order to master the art of “No” you must learn to maintain emotional balance while not reacting to the emotional reactions of others.
  • Defining your needs: By understanding your own values, articulating your purposes and separating your wants from your needs you an take the next step, crafting a strategic story.
  • Bring all players to the same level: If you are not on the same page as an adversary you cannot know when to say yes or no. The key here is to see whether they are playing a zero sum game where someone wins and another loses or a game where everyone can win?
  • Disarm the other side; Don’t make statements, ask questions. This is a powerful tool for disarming an adversary, especially one with strong influencing skills but less information than you. In addition by listening to what they say and how they say it you can determine what you will be willing to concede. Master influencers have taught me that you don’t have to give an opponent what they want but it is useful to give them something.
  • Offer a positive no: If you explain why you are saying no in a way your opponent can relate to you can turn less into more and define firm “non-negotiable” limits.
  • Ask for yes: If you understand how you opponent thinks you can offer them an option that they may say yes to or at least hold off on responding to you request to a later time.
  • Resist manipulation: Do not respond reactively to an opponent’s anger, denial and anxiety. Respect and acknowledge how they feel without agreeing or changing your position in response to how they feel.
  • Use and respond to influence: Differentiate between warnings and threats. Have them see their position through your eyes. This will help bring them to their senses without bringing them to their knees.
  • Make the deal, heal the relationship: Know when you have hit the end of the road and negotiate for completion. Be flexible but never give up your core essentials. Seek the higher “yes”.

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