The Art of “No” in Negotiation

Habel Abraham — This article is based on Chris Voss’s book, Never Split The Difference.

Suppose you’re about to call your potential client today. You are confident of what you’re going to say. You have memorized all “the script” to persuade the client to buy your product. So you grab the phone and enter their number.


“Hello, can I speak with Mr X?”

“Yeah, you’re speaking with him.”

“Hello, Mr X. I am A from ABC Insurance. I just want to ask a couple of question. Do you have a few minutes to spare?”

“Uhm, I think so.”

Do you think that a family need an emergency plan?”


“Do you think that it’s one of the most important thing to have?”


“Have you get an emergency plan for your family?”

“Uhm, not yet….”

“(AHA!) Okay. So, I’d like to offer a family plan to cover your family in case of emergency.”

*beep-beep-beep* — He hung up.

Frustration begins to grow in you. It’s the fifth client that hung up on you this week. Hours have been spent on researching the ideal way to make sales by phone. You begin to doubt yourself whether you’re in the right job or not. Does it feel familiar to you?

Suppose you’re familiar with the dialogue above. In that case, you notice that your client’s tone will sound more defensive as you put another question on them. But why is it?


My first job was being an insurance agent. It is low-cost, low-risk, and could bring a high return. All I need to do is meet as many people as I could in a day.

Before an agent could approach their potential client, we’re obliged to do some training. Like others, we, as a salesperson, were taught how to get a yes from our client. Questions from the dialogue above are near-perfect examples.

The Yes is needed to be the proof on how urgent our product to the client. So when they say it, the aim is to solidify our words.

However, asking for yes too quickly gets their guards up. They feel like they’re on your “radar.” They feel like prey waiting to get eaten up by the predator. Yes, you’re the predator.

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A Yes could have different meanings: counterfeit, confirmation, and commitment. A counterfeit yes is the one when they’re about to say no but feels like saying yes is more straightforward (because they want the conversation to end as soon as possible.)

A confirmation yes is often considered an impulsive yes. It’s a sign that your counterpart makes to give an impression that they’re “paying” attention to you. In other words, the one without an action.

“Silence isn’t always agreement. Sometimes people no longer argue because they no longer care.”

― Joyce Rachelle

The last one is the one that you should aim for. The one that brings you to the closing shake hand and could give a fortune to you. It’s the yes with action, which differs from the previous yes.

In general, “Yes” is like a magic word. But how about “No”? There’s nothing about no. “No” should be avoided at all costs. No is often (if not always) considered as the anti-Yes.

No equals failure, equals no closing, equals no sales.

Though, “No” means more than a failure. It’s simply a request for more information, or maybe it’s just a request for more time to think. “No” is not the sign of a dead-end. It’s a sign that the negotiation is about to start.


The right to say no can give a different spectrum to the negotiation. Letting your counterpart do so provides a sense of security. It allows them to feel that they’re in control of the decision that they will make.

They don’t feel like they’re your prey and consequently willing to be more open to what he’s feeling. This is when the negotiation starts.

Try mislabeling their feeling or desires. Say something that you know it’s totally wrong. For example, instead of asking, “Do you have some time to talk?”, says it more straightforward, like “it seems like it’s the wrong time to talk.” The idea is to get your counterpart to say no and make them feel like they have control in the discussion.

You can also force a “No” by asking things that they don’t want. People like it when they feel like they’re in the driving seat and have a right to express what they feel. They will become more open to new options and ideas.

Making sales is an act of negotiation. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea.

Don’t ambush them with lots of questions that forcing them to say yes. It’s hard to make sales when you’re dealing with their logic alone. You should know what they feel. What’s the status quo? What do they need? And as Chris Voss’s said, it’s not about you.

Pursuing “No” rather than “Yes” in the beginning may sound weird. It’s totally different from what we’re taught to make sales. The Yes that we should aim for is the FINAL yes, which has a meaning of commitment. There’s when you MAKE sales.

I am an Indonesian, a lifelong learner, football fanatic, and jazz enthusiast. I make short video essays on YouTube.