Fifty shades of “No”

They say that A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble. They even say Mahatma Gandhi said it. Well, he heard a fair number of “No”s in his life, and even a greater number of “Yes” which should have been “no”, so he knew what he was talking about. Prior to saying this phrase, he was a lawyer and an advocate of human rights, and even a national leader. He sure knew by then how to tell one “no” from the other and how to utilize this knowledge in business negotiations.

No means NO!

But most entrepreneurs don’t know that. They either wait to hear a No which will never be said, or interpret an indecisive “no” as a maybe, or hear the wrong no.

So in order to assist, I’ve selected the three most important “No”s in the business world, ones which are critical to tell apart, especially for entrepreneurs.

  1. The hell- no. Usually said much more politely, but irrevocably. This is the “no” which means NO- not now, not ever. Not on my watch at least. Smile, shake their hand and walk away. And don’t pick up the phone later, trying to convince that “maybe”. What do you have to lose? They already made it clear they do not want to engage. Should they change their mind they will need to start a discussion/ negotiation in a much lower stance,
  2. The “Not-XXX”: not now, no budget, no internal resources to implement etc. This is better because they left the door open. Now it’s up to you to exploit this- should you be bold and persistent enough they might actually respect you for chasing them and like you for it.
  3. The No which is never spoken. Mostly a cultural issue, some people (and nations) never actually say no. They change the subject. Or utter an ambiguous phrase. Or you thought it meant no by the body language but the translator said otherwise. If you press harder (for instance, ask if they will buy your product by the end of the year ) they will say that they will be happy to work together, but need to see how this aligns with their overall business plans. And while you may think they are doing you a favor be not saying no to your face, they are actually doing the opposite- but not acknowledging a dead end you might continue to pursue it, wasting time and valuable resources which could be utilized to pursue more tangible leads. How to identify this? Trust your instincts, and, if need be, ask a local or someone familiar with the culture. In some cultures saying no is considered offensive, and people will do anything to avoid it. Others simply like to please and hate to evoke negative feelings, regardless of territory and culture. If you have identified this “No”, walk away. You will make it easier for everyone, and much less awkward should you choose to engage this person in the future.

There are other “No’s of course- some more verbal and deterministic in nature, other are so benign that they stretch like bubblegum until someone pokes a hole in it- and it will not be the other side. With time you will get better at identifying what the “No” really means, and learn how to respond to each type. And you will also learn how to say No yourself and to what purpose.

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