The Power of “No”

"If you have a down payment and a monthly fee, the parents might ask you to cut the signup and the monthly fees in half if they pay in full for the first child. What would you say to them?"

Being on the giving end and the receiving end of a "no" can be difficult. Leaders know all too well the hardships of having to give someone a negative answer when the person really wants you to help. On the other side, being told "no" when you're wishing for a definitive "yes" can sting.

However, it's essential to understand that "no" can be helpful in a variety of ways. In Start with NO ... The Negotiating Tools That the Pros Don't Want You to Know, by Jim Camp, we're reminded that "no" is a powerful tool for setting boundaries and creating opportunities for learning and growth.


Many people have learned how to elicit several small "yes" responses from someone and then turn those into the big "yes" they were seeking all along. Ever the contrarian, Camp readily states that a "no" response is a great way of indicating where both parties stand. I couldn't agree more.

Recently, I was working with a potential client, whom we'll call Andi. Andi liked my pitch and the services I proposed. Naturally, the conversation moved toward fees, and I gave my rates.

Andi balked and countered with an amount that was perhaps 20-percent lower than what I'd requested. My response was polite: "No, I can't do what we discussed for that fee."

Andi proceeded to get a bit overdramatic regarding my reply. I explained my stance: "My answer is no because you want premium service for a reduced price. I can reduce my services to meet your fee, or you can accept my initial offer."

Andi apologized and likely realized that listening and working through an impasse is far more valuable and professional than overreacting. More important, my "no" wasn't a deal killer; rather, it was what you might call a course corrector for the conversation.

Why No Matters

"No" is powerful because it lets others know where you stand at that moment. Being definite and easy to understand, "no" also allows the other person to ask why, reconsider his or her position, or simply move on to another topic. Consider, for example, parents who wants to sign up their second child for half your normal fee.

If you have a down payment and a monthly fee, the parents might ask you to cut the signup and the monthly fees in half if they pay in full for the first child. What would you say to them?

My suggestion for working with the parents in this case is to say, "I'm sorry, but no, I can't sign up your child for that amount. However, let's explore some other options."

That one usage of "no" lets the parents understand that you're not going to cave to any demand but that you're open to working with them. The reason I included a statement about options is to also let them know that: You're open to working with them, and you took their concerns into consideration and did not dismiss them outright.

Perhaps you'll let the second child sign up if the parents pay half the down payment and the full monthly fee. Now you have two students instead of one, and they're likely to have greater longevity in your school because they train together. Having options and being open to alternatives can be beneficial.

Don't Fear the Word

Some people like to imply "no" without actually using the word. I disagree with this strategy. Again, "no" is definitive and simple, and using it provides clarity. It doesn't have to be final, though. As a teenager, I once asked my parents about visiting a friend's house after school. They said, "I don't know," and "I'm not sure," which upset me. I argued, and then after a few minutes, I got the definitive "no" from them. That led to more angst and arguments.

The point I'm trying to make is it's important to be specific with your "no" and be willing to explain why. As their leader, you want your people to respect your decisions. Explaining your decisions can be tiring, but it's generally worthwhile because it shows that you respect them.

One of the most important aspects of any leader's growth is the willingness to explain his or her decisions. Whether those decisions lead to a "yes" or a "no," as long as you take the time to diligently and thoughtfully explain your reasons, your followers will respect you and the culture of your school will improve.

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