Don’t be afraid of “NO” in negotiation

No is when negotiation starts

We shouldn’t be afraid of NO!

There was an amazing, interesting and almost global response to my last post “Let’s go girls…. negotiate”. All sorts of questions and issues were raised around gender differences related to salary negotiation. Many complex topics were covered connecting cultural and historical barriers that prevent women stepping up to self advocate. But I’m not even going to attempt to address those wider topics here and just want to concentrate on the immediate and practical. I’m  also just going to focus on negotiating for a new job and will deal with existing situations  later, although the principles are still broadly the same .

So let’s deal with what can anyone  of us do.. NOW.

Women are relationship builders

One  of the first  points  raised was that women are  relationships builders and as a consequence we are not good at “winning ” individual encounters and are therefore disadvantaged from the get go.

So OK… let’s look at this in real terms.

Yes, we are excellent relationship builders – but  all good  functional relationships I believe  are not about winning. In fact if anyone feels like a “loser” in a deal (male or female,) that connection is predicated to be dysfunctional long-term.

It is constructive communication between two parties to find a mutually satisfactory outcome. Women excel at win/win solutions. Do male managers really see all negotiations as adversarial? Wise and effective ones surely don’t. I have actually tried to find some management theorists who might support this line of thinking – but couldn’t locate any, except perhaps when discussing situations impacting international security – which we’re clearly not. And even in those cases, as we have historically seen, punitive negotiations don’t always work then either.

Many women also wrote to me and to paraphrase said   ” … You don’t understand ….negotiating a salary is different to other  types of negotiations.”

NO it isn’t.

Be confident

This is about confidence. Without confidence we will always find a way to lose, so it is important is to normalise and neutralise the negotiation process in our own minds and to understand that  as women, we all do it, all the time without a second thought. We just don’t even notice. Once we realise what an integral part negotiation actually plays in our daily lives, half the problem has been overcome.

 Test yourself:

1. The TV repairman says “Can’t come for 3 weeks”

2. You have a 4 figure quote from a supplier for a job you feel pretty sure should cost 3 figures

3.  Your 15-year-old wants a party

So what do you do? Do you roll over and wait for 3 weeks to get your TV fixed and say to your contractor  “sure no problem I’ll pay over the odds for that job?” or leave town and turn your house over to your teen for an all night rave?

No. Of course not.  You negotiate.

You research the market, evaluate what you need doing, decide what you can comfortably afford to accept. If it doesn’t work you let it go or change.

So salary negotiation isn’t different.

By becoming a candidate you have already made that psychological commitment to change and have taken that leap into the unknown. You have imperceptibly started the negotiation process. Note also that everything here will also apply to internal promotions and salary negotiations.

You have researched the company, identified your skills, know your value in the sector and must have marketed them well, because here they are now wanting to make you an offer. You are in a good place! If the hiring company lose you, they may have to start the process from scratch or fall back on candidate number two. That is an additional cost, not just in terms of  search fees, but also in terms of elapsed time before a new hire is effective, which equals lost revenue.

They will have done their homework and will know what the salary range for your skill set is on the market. Generally everyone should be looking for a successful outcome. Most companies settle at least 10-15%  above the initial offer.

The pre-question

When I started selling, my boss at the time, a guy called Mike Lowe, the best sales person I have ever met and a formative personality in my career and personal development, gave me a  simple nerve conquering mantra before I embarked on any project. The pre-question. “What is the worst thing that can happen?”

Mike also tried desperately hard to teach me to ski where injury, pain and death featured in my option choices (not necessarily in that order.) But these downsides, generally speaking, don’t tend to happen around a negotiating table discussing anything legal.

In any ordinary negotiation process, the worst case scenario is usually and I always unhappily thought, pre “Mike” , was a firm ” no” .  But Mike also taught me that “no” is my friend and how to use it .

Make “no” your friend. Negotiation doesn’t start until “no” has been clearly stated.

So even within this negative message there is a hidden bonus which can open up a dialogue and lead you to make informed decisions. So instead of fearing “no” – it’s now a word you feel extremely comfortable with. Take a lesson from your own kids. If you say no to a pre-schooler – what do they say? Exactly.  “Why? ”

It hangs around with “no”. It allows you to take each objection and calmly overcome them with your elevator sound bites, which incorporate all your CARS, USPs and overall added value. So you love “NO.” It can work for you! The evolved adult you have become, may not stamp her foot like a five-year old  and petulantly pout “why”, but you will counter with something more grown-up, neutral and reasonable like “What makes you say that?” or “Help me understand your thinking behind that decision?”

Mike taught me to de-emotionalise “no” and view it as a vital part of the process. It wasn’t about me. “No” doesn’t mean that my value or self-worth are on the line and reduced in any way, or I’m some sort of mini-failure. It’s only about the transaction.

Research & preparation

But first you have to deal with negative thinking and examine the facts and take steps to avoid  being over come by fear (False Expectations Appearing Real.) So research and preparation are key. Understand the economic viability of the company and know your own market value.


Mike also taught me about the use of silence. It’s the last member of the  “no / why” trinity. We women are not great at silence which is stereotyping I know but generally I’ve found it contain some truth . But there are times when the prudent use of silence can be as effective as delivering a great elevator speech. Used wisely it is a great negotiating technique. Deliver your pitch …. and wait….and wait…. and wait….

Fall back position

It maybe that you will not reach your first goal  – but  you should always have a secondary goal  in mind  before entering any negotiation. In the words of Karl Albecht  “Start out with an ideal and end up with a deal.”  If anyone in a negotiation situation that feels their back is against a wall, trouble and resentment  are going to figure largely in their futures.

Even if you can’t reach agreement on compensation, look at benefits. This could include work hours, vacations, training and development programmes, conferences, access to certain networks and sponsors. You can also negotiate a time frame for review and make sure it’s stipulated in your contract.

But if a compromise still isn’t possible then that leaves one option – seriously consider voting with your feet.

Is it this final step, which we as women fear most? That primal, risk taking side to our personalities that keeps us in the metaphoric “cave” and prevents us taking that leap into the unknown which separates us from the guys?

The irony  is of course, that it is the ability and willingness to walk away which can be the single most powerful negotiating tool in any deal.

Go for it?

If you need support – get in touch! 

If your career is stuck – get in touch NOW!


18 thoughts on “Don’t be afraid of “NO” in negotiation

  1. Susan Mazza

    A great continuation of a important conversation. If we can’t (or don’t believe we can) authentically say no in any situation how authentic is our yes?

    I have had to learn for myself that “no” in response to a request or offer simply means the terms don’t work for both parties yet. Using the techniques you provide help us keep the conversation moving to a mutually satisfying conclusion rather than relating to a no as the end of the conversation.

  2. Mark W. Schumann

    Dorothy, your last statement is the most powerful. You absolutely have to know when you can or can’t walk away from a negotiation.

    Here’s one real-world example. My wife’s car had finally gone to pieces after something like 12 years. She needed a new vehicle, and with three kids we thought a minivan would work.

    I got her a station wagon from Rent-A-Wreck for as long as she needed. That way, she could shop for the minivan, go back and forth over prices, and generally be one of those pain-in-the-neck customers who dicker on price.

    It was easy to walk away because hey, she already had a station wagon.

    (I bet it’s a lot easier to negotiate salary when you already have another job.)

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Mark – hope your wife got a good car and a good deal! It is different negotiating salary with an existing employer – and very much linked to lots of factors but also to the reasons for not being able to change. I’ll get on to that later!

  3. Jane Perdue

    Dorothy – excellent topic and content!

    Being willing to say “no” and mean it, being willing to walk away without regret – boil down to accepting, and being comfortable with, one’s personal power, another scary word for many woman. To get out of the cave and be the “bear stalker” requires women to recognize, value and flex their power/influence muscle and not forego taking action, fearing someone might not like us.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thank Jane for your comment. Having the courage to walk can always be challenging and if we can’t / don’t , then we have to think long and hard about the reasons that hold us back.

  4. Wally Bock

    Excellent follow-on Dorothy. I agree with everything you’ve said, but I still maintain that initial salary negotiations are a different kind of negotiation. The negotiator on the company side of the table is likely to be more experienced and likely to have a goal of bringing a new hire on board for the lowest possible salary/benefits cost. There is not likely to be an ongoing relationship between the applicant and the company representative. And the company representative is negotiating for the company and the applicant is negotiating for his or herself.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Wally I appreciate your input – I agree that companies always want the best “deal” – that’s normal, but that women should not be intimated by it. It’s just a process. Companies have to do what they have to do and so do female candidates!

  5. kgbusco

    No can be a scary word to many, but I like what Mike said “what is the worst that could happen”. I think that if we ask ourselves this question, we will find it is not as scary as we think. It takes some of the power out of it. The fear of rejection can overtake us. However the more we negotiate the better we become at it.

    I have experienced this myself and have gotten better at it. Negotiation is an art form that only gets better with practice. Thanks for the continuation of this important discussion.

  6. Pingback: Cave in… or leave the cave? « Dorothy Dalton

  7. Pingback: Let’s go girls … negotiate! « Dorothy Dalton

  8. Pingback: 5 mistakes to avoid when negotiating your salary - 3Plus International

  9. Pingback: 5 mistakes to avoid when negotiating your salary - 3Plus International

  10. Pingback: How to ask for what you want - and get it! - 3Plus International

  11. Pingback: Forget FREE-lancer! I want to be a PAID-lancer - 3Plus International

  12. Pingback: Salary negotiation lines to have up your sleeve - 3Plus International

  13. Pingback: Don't ask me to work for free - Visibility won't pay my bills - 3Plus International

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *