What Do You Say to “No”?

Sometimes a “No” means exactly that.  More often than not, it means “I can’t help you,” “I won’t help you,” “I don’t know how,” “I couldn’t be bothered,” or some related message.  Most “No” responses have more to do with who is being asked that what is being asked.

The anatomy of “NO” is complex.  You have to watch the body language.  Is the person to whom you’re addressing a request someone who creates obstacles or who removes them?  Of course, you could be asking too much.  But if you aren’t, then you’re likely just asking the wrong person. People who create obstacles tend to be immune to reasoning.  They do, however, value their time.  So, if you must deal with them, it’s useful to buy some time after they fail to help.  You might wonder aloud, “There must be some way to do this.”  Then ask if something not quite what you asked for might be possible.  And work from there.  Sometimes they find their way to your goal.  Consider asking if there is a competitor nearby, a hotel perhaps, that they or their boss recommends with the same high level of service you used to expect of this establishment.

To avoid the problem altogether, decide who you’ll speak with before you even step to a counter or pick up the phone.  If you have a name from prior effective business, ask for that person. Always get the name of people who facilitate and respond to your needs.  That circumvents a considerable number of “No” responses.

I’ve shared with my classes the story of going from hearing a hotel reservationist say, “We don’t have a room,” all the way to getting a beautiful one with an ocean view.  That’s a long story. Suffice it to say, I got all the way to a partial ocean view with her because she sounded like she wanted to help.  When people want to help, you need to help them do so.  I asked if she could recommend another hotel in the area that my husband and I would enjoy as much as the times we’d stayed at her hotel.  She realized then that we were reasonably regular customers. Apparently, as I’d hoped, her hotel tries to serve regular customers.  She found us a room.  I asked about staying, as we had previously, on the level where breakfast would be free.  Somehow she found that and then I asked if getting on a waiting list for a partial ocean view might be possible.  As she was doing that, she found a room with a partial ocean view.  I stopped there. But when we arrived at the hotel a few questions later we had a full ocean view.

That’s a fun story.  There are details to it but mostly it’s important to determine if  “No” means “I can’t help you unless you give me a reason to do so.”  I remember my first article rejection from the Harvard Business Review.  One of my senior colleagues came into my office and sat down. He listened as I complained.  Then he said, “That’s not like you.”  I must have looked puzzled. He explained, “You just told me exactly why they should not reject your article and it’s not like you to not tell them.”  Hmmm.  I called the editor.  He listened.  I listened.  We discussed changes and the rejection became an acceptance.  Sometimes “No” is “I can’t do this as things are.”  Then the door is still open.

I just wrote a blog for Huffington Post about publishing a first novel.  Rejection is tough.  But what if “no” means “I don’t know what sells and this might not,” “I like this but we have too many mysteries on our list” or “I need a good reason to accept this.”  These aren’t definite rejections.  They may be reasons to discuss your manuscript further or even to move on, but not by a long shot good enough reasons to give up.  A “No” after all, is not always what it seems.

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