Saying No Without Saying No

I find it hard to say “no” sometimes.

“No” pushes people away that I can potentially help.

“No” can hurt someone’s feelings.

“No” makes me feel guilty.

“No” feels so final.

Here’s how to elegantly say “no” three times (soft, medium, hard) without saying “no.”

This is a real transcript & underlying psychology of me negotiating price for a keynote (actual numbers redacted).

Me: “My keynote is $10.”

Prospect: “That’s expensive.”

Me: “Expensive?” (Mirorring. Get more information.)

Prospect: “Yes. Your price is too high.”

Me: “Sounds like price is your only concern.” (Labeling. Isolate the objection. Is it price or are there other concerns?”)

Prospect: “It is. You’re more than I expected.”

Me: “Seems like you’re comparing my keynote to a previous keynote.” (Labeling. Understand why the prospect feels my price is too high.)

Prospect: “We had a keynote last year that was $6. Can you do it for that?”

Me: “Feels like you need to break this up into multiple payments.” (Labeling. Isolate. Is it the total price or can you not pay for it at once?)

Prospect: “It’s not that. We only have $6.”

Here’s how to elegantly say no three times:

First soft “no.”
Me: “How am I supposed to do that?” (Calibrated question. Enlist their help.)

Prospect: “Can you give us a discount? $6 is our budget.”

Second medium “no.”
Me: “Your offer is very generous. I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work for me.”

Prospect: “The max we could do is $6.50.

Third hard “no.”
Me: “I’m sorry, I don’t know how to deliver a keynote that will best serve your audience at that price point.”

Prospect: “Let me take this back and see what we can do.”

I discovered this approach when taking Chris Voss’ Masterclass and reading Never Split The Difference.

Here’s why I like it:

  1. Three levels of “no” (soft, medium, hard) feel collaborative. Less final.
  2. Giving a subtle compliment (that’s a generous offer) softens the no. Nobody wants to come across as being selfish.
  3. “I’m sorry” might appear like you’re being weak; however, it shows you’re empathetic and humble.
  4. “I don’t know how” subconsciously says I have your best interest in mind. You’re enlisting the other person’s help rather than saying they’re being unreasonable.

Knowing how to elegantly say “no” without saying “no” is a good skill to master.