Negotiators are conflicted because they often want to sent two messages at the same time with opposite meanings. More specifically, they want to be firm in rejecting an unworthy proposal but they don’t want that rejection to be offensive or even insulting. Good negotiators know the value of ‘relationship negotiating’ whereby they strive to establish a cordial and even warm relationship with their opponent. Everyone knows that you can get more concessions from a friend than from an enemy.
So how do you say “NO” without being offensive?

If I were to ask you to share two or three ways you could say “No” to an offer or a proposal, could you do it? More importantly, would those you could name come across in a professional and cordial manner? If not, permit me to share a few ways to accomplish this task.

1. “I’m afraid that’s unacceptable” The ‘unacceptable’ word choice is a great one. It’s firm. It demands a better proposal. It doesn’t comment on the motives behind that unacceptable proposal. It conveys a firm rejection, politely. Adding the softening introduction, specifically “I’m afraid..”, further conveys your concern that a verbalized rejection might be taken as an offensive remark.
Good negotiators can also communicate their concern when using this phrase by giving a flinch, typically a pained look or grimace. With our without the flinch, this is a great way to say “No”.

2. “I can’t see how that could work for me.” As in a tennis match, this phrase puts the ‘ball back in their court’. It softly, yet firmly communicates a “No”, but does so by presenting a problem. The problem is that we can’t see a way that the current proposal, price or position can work (or be accepted). The beauty of this “No” response is that it almost forces one’s opponent to help justify why we should accept the proposal, list the benefits to us of accepting it. If they can’t justify it for us a concession on their part is more likely.

3. “Is that the best you can do?” Saying “No” by using these seven magic words is simply applying the crunch technique. It’s another ‘ball in your court’ technique, but this time demanding a concession from your opponent. If you’re noticing that we’re trying to avoid the actual word “No”, you are correct. It’s a potentially harsh word when used improperly in a negotiation.
Consider this, almost any reply that does not include a “Yes” or “I agree” can be construed as a “No”.

4. “No way.” You may have noticed that this reply is more direct, more assertive and more confrontational. Aren’t there times with certain opponents where they are slow to pick up on the message? If you are in such as situation, being abrupt might be in order. These two words, “No way” are rarely misunderstood by one’s opponent. It conveys that you’ve reached your limit or downside position and a concession from your opponent is the only thing that will keep negotiations moving forward. There is nothing wrong with softening this effective reply by adding a few works in advance of the “No way”. For example, “I hope you can appreciate that there is no way I could accept that price (proposal, position)”. Trust me, the “No way” will resonate out of that longer reply and achieve the desired result.

So again I ask, how many ways can you say “No”? I am certain that there are others beyond the few included here. Find two or three that work for you and match the situations where they are needed.
Want some great practice? Try these “Say No” techniques at home, on your family, especially your kids. You’ll be surprised how they can become game changers and level the negotiating playing field.

Remember, good negotiators are adept at saying “No” and they even have multiple ways of saying it.