I am here to tell you otherwise. The power of saying No can actually be a destructive, evil power! There is a reason many of us squirm with saying No. It sounds insensitive, it can burn relationship capital and make us seem uncaring. Believe it or not, global leaders are rarely loved for their insensitivity. In fact, insensitive attitudes have even inspired famous business books like "The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't."
I discussed with my client that in many cases she can in fact avoid saying No and can benefit from doing so. Let me share a few examples of what I mean:
- You want to tell someone that they cannot work with you on a project in South Africa. Instead of saying No, think of a project that you have been having trouble staffing and try: "We are really excited to have you involved and want to make sure that we put you where you'll maximize your impact. Let me tell you about a project that might be a better fit for your talents that we could really use your help on."
- You do not want to work with a particular distributor to get your product into Brazil. If you say No, you may burn relationship equity and possible future profitable collaboration! Try: "We are really honored that you are interested in being our distributor. We have lots of products in our pipeline, and have taken notes on your capabilities so that when we are ready with the right opportunity, we can reach out to you. Please keep us updated on your business activities."
- Someone wants you to hire them and you cannot. Try: "I will definitely keep you in mind when an appropriate position opens up! Can you send me your resume? By the way, do you know of any clients that might be interested in working with us?" By the way, this strategy is not about telling falsehoods, but about keeping doors open to maximize flexibility. You may actually have an opening in the future that would suit them.
These examples are not so much about not saying No, but about not seeing the world in Black and White and Yes's and No's, but as a maneuverable playing field with infinite possibilities. The executive who has a way of getting you to do something even if you do not want to? They are playing on this field and know how to create space outside the Yes's and No's. They change the terms of the offer until they find something that you will say yes to. You can change the terms of your acceptance so that you can not only say yes, but be happy with and benefit from the result.
Of course, there are times to say No. Especially when a clear stance is necessary to avoid costly confusion. For instance:
- Will you cheat, steal or kill for me? No.
- Do you hate our new boss? No.
- Will you be my girlfriend? No.
Americans struggle with the issue of saying Yes or No so much because as a society we have standardized the majority of processes so that most of us are not taught sophisticated (or any) negotiation skills from a young age, unlike in most emerging markets environments.
In emerging markets, while this is changing, there is often less standardization and process. Therefore, people must learn to negotiate their circumstances just to survive daily life. Also, relationships are even more important in the emerging markets, for reasons discussed in many of our posts, so there is more to lose by burning relationship equity by saying No. In many environments, "saving face" is also an important concept leading to communication patterns like the one reviewed here.
Remember that sometimes, it can be to your benefit to open up the parameters of the conversation to find something that you will benefit from saying Yes to.
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