What Does “No” Actually Mean in Business Deals?

No one likes to hear the word “no.” This little word can mean anything from, “I don’t accept your idea” to “I can’t or won’t give you what you want.” From the time we are toddlers, we learn to avoid being told “no.” Yet what does this word actually mean in business deals? “No” can mean much more than you think, and hearing it does not necessarily mean your negotiation has failed.

Yes to X, No to Y

Sometimes, “no” actually means, “I like this part of what you’re saying but not that one.” It’s the kind of “no” a professor might get when approaching a dean about a new course he or she wants to teach. The dean may like some elements of the course but be skeptical about the value of others so he or she might say “no.” The professor then has to figure out how to compromise so he or she gets to teach the course, or some parts of it, while the dean remains satisfied about what students are learning. Like that professor, if you get a partial “no,” be ready to compromise, or ask what could be changed so you get a “yes” next time.

I Can’t Take the Risk

In business deals, people sometimes say no because they’re afraid agreeing to your terms might hurt their business or employees. For instance, many employees get turned down when they ask for extra time off because it’s a busy season and the supervisor is wary of being shorthanded.

If you are negotiating for something with inherent risk, be aware of what the risks are. Approach the supervisor, client, or customer with an attitude that says, “I have analyzed the risks and can protect you in this way.” For example, when negotiating for time off, make the case that you need the time to gain respite to be your best when you come back to work. Assure your supervisor you will check in when needed, and offer help to the people who’ll cover for you.

This Doesn’t Fit

Sometimes, “no” really means, “your idea is good, but it doesn’t fit my goals.” Let’s say you’re trying to sell a line of fitness equipment to a local gym, and the owner turns down your high-powered treadmills and bikes even though they’re highly sought after. Maybe the owner turned you down because his or her gym focuses on classes instead of solo workouts, or low-impact exercise over high-impact.

To avoid this type of “no,” do your research. Find out as much as you can about what the person you’re negotiating with needs. How has he or she responded to requests or sales pitches like yours in the past, and why? If you do get a “no,” think about how you could revise your request or product and try again.

I Don’t Understand You

People are often told “no” in negotiations because they aren’t confident. They go into negotiations lacking knowledge, which means they use poor skills and don’t get the results they want. If you aren’t confident in negotiations, negotiation training and plenty of practice can help.

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