When it pays to say No

Getting to Yes, Getting Past No, The Power of a Positive No. William Ury has written some of the most seminal books on negotiating. Putting the theory into practice can be a challenge. David Savage spoke at our Workplace Fairness Lunch recently and we learned from him that a positive no is a great place to start in negotiation because it allows room to create positive boundaries and gives space to consider.

I can think of more than a few times I should have said no.  Why do we always say yes?  As a consultant with bills to pay I recognize the fear of not being certain where the next job is coming from.  As a parent I recognize the apprehension of being judged. As a member of the community I see the impact of perceptions of neighbours.  It takes courage to say no. In fact David reminded us too that our toughest negotiations are with ourselves:  What am I prepared to be courageous on? What am I prepared to trust you on? We often don’t take the space and time to consider these questions. They deserve careful consideration.

The other thing about starting out with no is that it provides an opportunity to build accountability.  There is never a better time for examining consequences and accountability than when you need something from each other.  I recognize this sentiment too.  I commit readily to committees (notice the name which instills a sense of commitment guilt) and one or two meetings in I begin to think, what is my role? How can I contribute? It is all too easy at this stage to take a backseat in a meeting or two as life intervenes between committee get-togethers.  How do you continue to hold yourself, and others, accountable? And what happens if you don’t?

Well as David Savage reminded us, you need some naysayers at the table! Once again, no is good.  The critics will minimize the group think. Imagine the committee meeting surrounded by agreeable nodders, and then the frustration that sets in afterwards once reality reveals the difficulty of meeting the commitments. Naysayers and reality-checkers will help you be realistic from the start and avoid the pain later. In fact, Dave suggested to appoint critics, as many as 2 in 10, if they are not readily apparent.

And how else can you continue to hold yourself and others accountable? Well, negotiation is not a one-time event. It is a circle; it builds relationships and trust.  Once you leave the table, it is important to review what you have learned, gained, and lost as well as the status of the relationship. Maintaining relationships with the other parties is important so that you can review and improve the process and outcomes. Finally, you can take your learning from each discussion to help prepare for the next.

On David Savage’s website, you can find some useful videos on getting ready to negotiate, and the qualities of a master negotiator. They are here: http://www.savagemanage.com/videos.html.

Using David’s suggestions, I made a brief checklist for my own reference which I plan to use every time I am invited to join a committee. I am going to post this where I can see it, read it and review it regularly! Thank you David!

  1. Prepare by clarifying your interests, vision, and boundaries before the first meeting.
  2. Take time to build relationships, engaging in face-to-face discussions.
  3. Share expectations and understanding early: authority, resources, goals, timing, accountability.
  4. Be persistent, and say no until you are ready to agree.
  5. Take care to serve the other other’s and the group’s interests.
  6. Embrace conflict and diversity and positively engage challenge.
  7. Evaluate the commitments and create mutual accountabilities. Ask, what happens if someone fails to perform?
  8. Document.
  9. Review, reconnect, review.
  10. See 1.

Dave’s full negotiation checklist is posted here: http://www.savagemanage.com/downloads/Negotiation%20Success%20Checklist.pdf.