Getting to ‘No’ You!

Why Getting Them to Say ‘Yes’ is the Wrong Thing to Do!

Negotiation Mastery for Appraisers

If you’ve ever been in any kind of sales position, or had any kind of sales training, you will have heard the age old advice that to get your prospects and customers to say yes to your offer or product, you have to do two primary things: you have to get a bunch of little yeses first, these are considered small commitments to unimportant things, and then you have to never hear the word ‘no’, even if that’s what they actually say. Much of the sales training over the past 50 years has centered around these two ideas, primarily. There have been dozens of spins on these concepts, in fact, one popular book is called SPIN Selling. Neil Rackham proposed a more consultative approach to selling in that book where the acronym, SPIN, stood for four different types of questions: Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need. The other super popular book in the sales world is actually called, Getting to Yes. In that book the authors propose throwing out the tired old adversarial negotiation strategy and, instead, try to find points of mutual agreement and win-win strategies for all parties concerned. Hopefully, you’ll know by now that I am a huge fan of learning from everyone and everything. I’ve read both of those books, along with many others on the topic, and have learned something from all of them. What you probably also know, just from living and interacting with human beings all your life, is that there is never a one size fits all strategy or tactic for everything. There are merely tools in a proverbial toolbox that we may have to solve a particular problem or challenge. Some of them might work, some might not, sometimes we need a combination of tools, and there are times, of course, where nothing will work for that particular problem. 

As appraisers, we deal with this on every single assignment. Every assignment proposes a problem to be solved and we have a variety of tools available to us to solve that problem, depending on how the problem is defined. The same is true in life, of course, in that much of our success or failure in any given area depends on how we perceive a particular problem, how we define it, and then what tools we choose to utilize to solve or overcome that problem. Regardless of whether or not you’ve ever had a sales role in the past, one thing we have all been conditioned to listen for in life is the word ‘yes’. We learned from our very first days that yes was positive and no was negative. I mean, by definition this is certainly true. But we have also learned that no means no, and no typically correlates with rejection. Will you go out with me? No! Do you want to buy my stuff? No! Will you take me on as a trainee? No! Can I borrow some money to go to the bar? No! We’ve all had our fair share of no’s in our lives, and my bet is that, every time you’ve heard a no, you’ve heard something akin to a rejection of you, your idea, your request, your ideals, and a whole host of other negative emotions around the word no. 

However, over the years I’ve learned that, not only is no not the negative word we’ve come to hear it as, it’s actually one of the first things we should be going for in any kind of negotiation, sales situation, and even in casual conversation. Let me explain. About 10 years ago I read a book by author, Mark Camp, called Start With No. In this book, the author takes a very contrarian approach to sales and negotiations by explaining that the good old ‘win win’ style of conflict management and negotiation that we learned from Stephen Covey could actually be bad for both parties. I’m not going to go deep into his thinking on this, just know that he says this primarily to indicate that compromising some of your needs and values to meet those of the client, what might be perceived as win win, could, in the long run, actually leave one of you in a bad position and have to renegotiate the deal just to stay alive. In those kinds of scenarios, win win is a bad deal. In those kinds of scenarios, getting to yes turns out to not be the thing you needed. Throughout Camp’s book, he talks about how the word ‘no’ is actually a good thing because trying to get people to always say ‘yes’ is, in some cases, disingenuous, and in other cases a false signal from the person you’re talking to. You’re hearing yes, but what you’re really hearing is a counterfeit ‘yes’ just to get you to the end of your sales pitch so they can say no. 

Fast forward to 2020 when I come across a book called Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss. Chris Voss is a highly trained former FBI hostage negotiator who founded a company that now teaches negotiation strategies to corporations based on what he learned in that line of work. Like Mark Camp, Voss’s book is filled with similar contrarian advice on how to negotiate with people, but with more of the psychology behind the strategies. Voss talks about how there are really only three kinds of ‘yes’; the counterfeit yes, the confirmation yes, and the commitment yes. The problem with thinking that the word ‘yes’ means you’ve won, or that you’re gaining their confidence and getting closer to getting that big ‘yes’ to whatever it is you’re asking them to do, is that the odds are very good that you’re getting either a counterfeit ‘yes, or a confirmation ‘yes’, which is really just them confirming something obvious, like, “do you like to breathe fresh air?, yes!” That’s a confirmation yes and is meaningless in negotiations and sales. What we should always be going for in sales and negotiations is honesty, transparency, trust, and showing them our competence. We’ve been taught to ask leading and open ended questions that get us information and insight, which I think is great advice, but what we’ve never really been taught is how and why the word ‘no’ is actually a good thing and something we should not only be ok with, we should actually be happy about when we hear it. To take it a step further, I’ll share with you why Chris Voss says we should actually be looking for 3 words during discussions and negotiations with people. He says we should be inviting the ‘no’ response, and be happy to hear it, and looking for the person we’re talking or negotiating with to say the magic words, ‘that’s right’. 

So let’s first clear up what we mean when we say that we should be going for the ‘no’ response instead of a ‘yes’. Let’s say you’re out doing what I always tell you to do and you’re prospecting for some more direct lender appraisal business. You stop into a new credit union that opened up a mile from your office and you start engaging in conversation with one of the managers. You eventually muster up the courage to go for the big ask and you say, ‘hey, would you guys be open to adding me to your approved appraiser panel?’ What are you hoping to hear, yes or no? Of course, you’re hoping to hear a ‘yes’! Even though it’s the wrong way to go about things, and just getting on an approved appraiser panel will likely get you zero business, you’re excited and gleaming because it worked! In your mind hearing that ‘yes’ means you won! In their mind, you may have just heard a counterfeit ‘yes, meaning they said it just to get you out of there, or you heard a confirmation ‘yes’, which is their way of saying, ‘sure, we’ll add you to the list because the list really doesn’t mean a whole lot since we get to choose who on the list who gets business and who doesn’t!’ In that scenario, you got your ‘yes’, but you gained nothing but disappointment. Saying ‘yes’ is a big deal for almost everyone! A real ‘Yes’ from somebody entails making a commitment and most of us are not ready to make a commitment to something right away, especially if it’s a big thing. Eliciting a ‘no’ response to strategically asked questions allows the person on the other side of the conversation an out. Saying ‘no’ gives people power and authority, something everybody fears giving up at some level. Allowing the person on the other side of the proverbial table to say ‘no’, even inviting them to say ‘no, is a way to allow them to remain in power and control of their own choices and not feel like they’re being sold something they don’t need or want. It’s actually the start of real relationship building. 

When you ask people to say ‘yes’ to something, you’re asking for a commitment, however great or small, and commitment is anxiety producing for almost everybody. When you have to commit to something, you’re essentially cutting off all other options. When anxiety is produced it interferes with our ability to think and respond naturally. Anxiety slows brain function and makes it difficult for people to make good decisions. It’s one of the reasons laws have been created that allow people some time period to back out of a previous sale or commitment. Anxiety is one of the reasons people end up with buyer’s remorse after making a purchase. You’re excited about something, you start to sell yourself on the reasons to do or buy something, you head to the store to learn a little more about it. You encounter a good salesperson who asks all the right questions, tells you how much you’re going to love having this thing, the anxiety of not having it builds and so you pull the trigger. You get it home, set it up, experience it for a while, and then the remorse starts to set in. “Why did I do this?” It’s not the salesperson’s fault, it’s just the way our brain’s work. Extreme emotions slow down brain function and we tend to make poor decisions that we eventually regret when we come back down. When it comes to any kind of negotiation, or trying to sell somebody on an idea, encouraging and allowing them to say ‘no’ is a way to reduce their anxiety and allow them to remain in control. 

So let’s talk about what eliciting ‘no’ responses, instead of ‘yes’ responses might sound like. Am I asking you to walk into that credit union and ask, ‘Hey, do you want to do business with me?’, and then hope for a ‘no’ response? Of course not! That’s not what this is about. What this contrarian advice is all about is primarily about how to reframe questions so that the person you’re speaking with feels more comfortable saying ‘no’, than they would saying ‘yes’. I’ll give you an example. How many times have you called somebody and said, “is this a good time to talk?” I know I’ve done it hundreds, maybe thousands of times. Very rarely do you hear a ‘no’ on the other end, and not necessarily because it’s always a great time to talk, but because we all have a hard time saying ‘no’ in that situation so we say ‘yes’, and almost immediately regret it. Instead of asking if this is a good time to talk, ask them if this is a bad time to talk. By just switching out the word ‘good’ for the word ‘bad’ you are giving the person on the other end of the line an easier opportunity to maintain control by saying ‘no, I’ve got some time’. Just that one little option reduces anxiety for the person on the other end because you’re not asking for a commitment, you’re inviting a ‘no’ response, which allows them control. If it isn’t a good time to talk, by framing the question as, ‘is this a bad time to talk’, you’re giving them an out and an easy way to give you a confirmation ‘yes’. ‘Yes, not a great time to chat, can I call you back?’ It may seem like such a small and insignificant thing, and in that case it’s not a huge deal, but it makes a huge difference in outcomes and brain chemistry. 

Let’s dig into some bigger ‘no’ scenarios so you have a better idea of the how and why of going for the ‘no’ makes so much sense. To really understand the reasoning behind all of this, we have to first understand that all decision making is 100% emotional. You may think it’s based on facts, figures, rational thinking, and good old fashioned decision making skills, some of which may be injected into somebody’s decisions, but decision making comes from the gut, the hara in Japanese. It’s the place in our bodies that sends signals to the brain about what feels right and what doesn’t. Facts may play a role in negotiations and decision making, but the decisions are made in the emotional realm first before they make it to the head. As we all know, emotions are not consistent, they aren’t rational, and they are unpredictable. And it’s for this reason that we would go for a ‘no’ first before trying to go for a yes. When you go for a ‘no’ first, you are helping the person on the other side of the phone, the table, the zoom call, or the email to move past emotions and into the more rational portions of the decision making process. I want to state again, so that it’s very clear, we are not talking about using a tactic of deception or a trick. What we’re talking about is inviting the other person to say ‘no’ if something isn’t right, if it doesn’t feel right, if your understanding isn’t correct, if the deal isn’t right for both parties, and we’re giving them permission to be radically honest with us right up front. What we’re really talking about with this mindset is about respect for time, ours and others. 

How often do we talk about time on this show? Every single week in some way. I used to close every show by saying how much I appreciated you investing your most valuable currency, which is our time. It’s the most valuable non-renewable currency we all have, and it’s the equalizer in many things. Jeff Bezos may be one of the richest men on the planet, but he has exactly the same number of seconds in his day as you and I. Nobody has more than you or I on any given day. The biggest differentiating factors when it comes to time is how each of us uses our allotment. Asking for a ‘no’, or at least allowing it in the conversation, is one of the best time saving actions we can take. When we embrace the word ‘no’ in discussions, negotiations, conversations, and in life and business in general, we become that much better at managing our own time, not to mention giving the gift of time back to the person you might be dealing with. An example of this gift of time through the use of ‘no’ would be to say, “I want you to feel free to tell me no if what I’m about to express to you doesn’t have any relevance to you or your business. I don’t know if it does or not, but if it doesn’t, just tell me no and I wont waste any more of your time.” Imagine the scenario where you’re out prospecting for new direct lender clients, or maybe trying to build up the private side of your appraisal business. You walk into the credit union, or maybe it’s an office full of real estate agents, and after introducing yourself you say something like,  “I don’t know if this would be a benefit to you and your business, if it’s not, feel free to tell me no and I’ll be on my way, but would it be a crazy idea for me to come in some day and put on a free half hour class for your people?” Not sure if you caught that, but I pulled a double ‘no’ ask. I told them to tell me ‘no’ right away if they didn’t think what I’m about to offer would be beneficial for their business, which lowers their anxiety about having to give me a counterfeit ‘yes’, or worse, a ‘maybe’, and allows them to really listen to my offer. Then, I asked them a ‘no’ based question by starting it off with, ‘would it be a crazy idea for me to give you something for free?’ There aren’t many people who would be willing to say, ‘yes, that’s a completely crazy idea, please leave!’ No, that’s not what reasonable people do. They would hear that offer and, most likely say, ‘that’s not a crazy idea at all! We’d love that!’ How do I know? Because I’ve used it hundreds of times and given hundreds of talks and classes to banks, credit unions, attorney’s offices, financial planners, and real estate offices. It’s essentially how we built the private side of our appraisal business. 

That’s what we’re talking about when I challenge you to go for the ‘no’. It has two primary aspects to it. One, always offer the person the opportunity to say ‘no’ to you and your ask. Two, frame your questions in a way that give the person the opportunity to say ‘no’ very easily, as opposed to making them give you a counterfeit ‘yes’, which essentially is a big time waster for everybody. So how do we do the second part with any competence? We just start practicing reframing our phrasing and questions in a way that invites them to say ‘no’, instead of ‘yes’. For example, instead of saying, ‘would you be open to_______?’, reframe it as, ‘would you be absolutely opposed to doing _____?’ If you ask them if they’re open to something, they may be or they might not be, but it’s easy for somebody to say, ‘yes, I’m open to  it’, without actually being honest. What they might also be saying is, ‘look, I’m open to it, but not with you!’ They may not have the guts or desire to say the last part to your face though. When you ask, ‘would you be against or opposed to having me do ______?’, you’ve given that person the power to say ‘no’, which gives them some semblance of control and it indicates right out of the gate that you have a high level of emotional maturity.  Simply begin phrasing your questions with, ‘would you be opposed to…., are you against…., and would it be crazy for me to ask…?’ Learning how to reframe and rephrase your questions in a format that invites a no is a super powerful way to put conversation on the most honest path immediately. Not only does it allow the other person to say ‘no’ pretty easily, it also invites an honest ‘yes’, followed by real reasons why something might not be right. When people get honest with you right off the bat, you’ve got something to work with immediately.

Let’s say you’ve asked the question, ‘would you be opposed to doing X, for any reason?’ And let’s say they respond with, ‘well, yes, I’d be opposed to it if A, B, or C!’ What have they just given you? They’ve given you everything you need to address in some way if you want to make this thing happen. Whatever A, B, and C are, you’ve gotten all of their objections right up front without having to beat around the bush or play the counterfeit ‘yes’ game. Anytime you can start off by asking somebody what they don’t want, you’re going to get way more honest way more quickly than if you ask somebody what they do want. Why? Because very few people know what they really want, but almost everybody has a good idea of what they don’t want. In fact, it’s the biggest hurdle I have as a coach. When I ask people what they want, what they want their future to look like, where they want to be in 90 days, 1 year, 3 years, almost all of them tell me where they don’t want to be. Fortunately, I’m pretty good at what I do so I can read through that part and catch them on their thinking. So, now, I’ll often start those conversations with, ‘tell me where you would absolutely hate to end up 90 days from now? What’s the worst thing that could happen between now and 1 year from now? What don’t you want from your business in the next 6 months?’ From there we can start to work on what they do want. The negative has helped us get closer to extreme clarity. Go for the ‘no’ first to get to the more honest ‘yes’. Which leads to the last part of all this; asking people what they don’t want, or all of the reasons why somebody wouldn’t want to do something. 

So, we’ve been talking about going for the ‘no’ most of this time and, if you’ll remember I mentioned that Chris Voss taught us to seek out 3 words, not just one. The other two words were, ‘that’s right’.  In any negotiation or sales process, whatever the reasons somebody gives you for why they don’t want to do something, we simply restate back to them all of their reasons, all the negative things they’ve cited as reasons not to say ‘yes’. The way you restate those things is with the phrases, ‘it sounds like, it feels like, and it seems like…’ When somebody says, ‘we’re just not ready to do X,Y, or Z’, there’s not much you can do from that point except come off pushy and annoying. You state back to them what they’ve said and you started it off with, ‘it sounds like you guys have a lot going on at the moment’, and if you’ve accurately restated what they’ve said, they’ll respond with, ‘that’s right’. What happens when they say that is they’ve confirmed recognition that you heard them. Do you know what happens when you make somebody feel heard? One of the greatest fears we all share as human beings is that we aren’t seen or heard. When you summarize back to somebody all of the negatives, all of the reasons they might have for not doing something, you take all of the power and energy out of those things to be issues going forward. You’re also acknowledging that those are concerns of theirs and that you hear them. No need to start attacking or picking apart each of those issues. The goal at this point is to let them know you’ve heard them and to have them say back to you, ‘that’s right’. The only thing left to do is possibly follow up by going for another ‘no’, with something like, ‘would you be against having another conversation about all of this in a month or so?’ Unless they say, ‘yes, we would be against that’, you’ve masterfully handled step one of any negotiation. An important phrase I learned from Chris Voss is to never be so sure of what you want that you won’t take something better. When we’re single mindedly focused on arriving at a predetermined destination that just happens to always be in our favor, we tend to miss what the other people are thinking and feeling. Don’t be so dead set on a binary option of, ‘it’s my way or I’ve failed’, and be open to something even better than what you were initially thinking. 

I can’t overstate just how important this idea of giving people permission to say ‘no’ really is. Every single day we find ourselves in a sales and negotiation situation, often without knowing it. We are negotiating with our kids, our loved ones, every time we go to the store we’re negotiating for something. Every time we get on a phone or zoom call we’re negotiating something. You might be wondering what you could possibly be negotiating when you go to the grocery store since everything is already priced. What you’re negotiating for in every single situation is time. With your kids, you might be negotiating for their understanding of why you had to say no, but ultimately you’re negotiating for time, theirs and yours. The better you get at drawing out the word ‘no’, the more you can get to the bottom of somebody’s issues by giving them permission to say ‘no’. The more you learn to expertly restate somebody’s issues using words like, ‘it seems like, it feels like, and it sounds like’, the more likely you are to hear them say, ‘you’re right’, which is an acknowledgment that they’ve been heard. The better you get at restating, or at least summarizing, the reasons somebody might give you for not doing something by saying things like, ‘it seems like maintaining your independence is really important to you’, or, ‘I can tell you’re really bothered by this situation’, or ‘it feels like there’s not much I can say to change your mind’, the closer you are to saving yourself time, saving their time, saving a relationship, and building a powerful bridge between you and considerably better outcomes. 

My friends, would I be completely crazy to think that we could meet back here again next week, same time, same place? Are you opposed to taking me up on a fair trade of a little bit of your time for a whole lot of value? No? Cool, lets do this again next week. Until then, I’m out…

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