How to Say “No” Without Harming the Relationship

There comes a time in just about everyone’s life when you have to say “no” to a request or demand, whether it be to an internal request or an external/client request. How you say “no” can affect the relationship, either positively or negatively. For example, if your reason for no is, “it’s against company policy,” it will most probably affect the relationship in a negative way. The response to, “it’s against company policy” is often, “change the policy.” Arguments go back and forth with neither side willing to give, and the relationship may become toxic.

On the other hand, if you have a compelling reason for saying “no,” you can proceed to offer alternatives to the original request and keep the relationship on a positive footing. You have a compelling case for saying “no” if you can show that a request or demand works against their interests or concerns, thus hampering the outcome desired or leads to an unwanted result. Appropriate examples depend on how your company or your client’s company sees themselves or their industry. If the company sees themselves as:

  1. Customer Focused—their request may not provide the consistency they want.
  2. Product Leader—what they’re asking for may not have all the features they want or demand to keep them a leader. They want to be the first with the “latest and greatest.”
  3. Operationally Excellent—the change or system they’re asking for may not work for them.

Once you have a compelling reason, support it with evidence. There are a number of types of evidence—make sure you choose the type of evidence that will have the most impact with that client. Four popular types of evidence are:

  1. Their request goes against an Interest or Concern stated by them. Example: “You’ve made it clear that accuracy and completeness of the data are important to you. However, your request for me to cut the project from 90 to 60 days may hurt the quality of the research. Let’s look at another approach.”
  2. Their Corporate Strategy. Show them how their request isn’t compatible with their corporate strategy.
  3. Goes against Industry Standards and Practices. Show that the demand/request is out of line with the way their industry achieves excellence. Efforts to go against an industry’s expertise and know-how often fail and the story is told in the business news, trade journals, media, and Internet.
  4. Your experience with “This didn’t work.” Show how their demand/request is similar to what another client wanted and got, then wasn’t happy with the results.

After giving your compelling reason and backing it up with evidence, offer an alternative based on something of value to you which you can get from them. In return, discuss what you can give them and any “hidden treasures” that may be of value to them—this is especially of value when saying no to a client, but still has leveraging power to help with internal relationships. Hidden treasures are part of the product or service you’re offering, but you haven’t discussed it yet. Examples might be delayed billing; extended terms; drop shipments; referrals, etc. They don’t have to cost anything or very little.

One easy way to remember the process is: “No, here’s why…(Compelling Reason). If you…(Gets from the person), then I…(Gives & Hidden Treasures).”

For more information on saying “No,” check out our courses in Socratic Selling for face-to-face, virtual, and over the phone.


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