Excerpt from JUST LISTEN: Take It All the Way to ‘No’

just_listen_goulstonThe following is an excerpt from Chapter 22 of the book “JUST LISTEN: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone” (Amacom, 2009) by Mark Goulston. The book outlines the effectiveness of various communication techniques and the science behind how the brain switches from “no” to “yes.”

Take It All the Way to “No”

Benefit: Move a person rapidly through every phase of the Persuasion Cycle from resistance to “doing,” by creating agreement where none exists.

Life is a series of sales situations, and the answer is “no” if you don’t ask.


Walter Dunn was one of the top people at Coca-Cola for four decades. Dunn was responsible for getting Coke many major accounts, including Disney and several professional sports organizations.

Walter told me how years ago he tried to get Coke into one of the main movie theater chains. After speaking with the theater representative for a while, he got this response: “Sorry, Walter, the answer is ‘No.’ We’ve decided to go with Pepsi.”

Without missing a beat, Walter replied: “What question did I fail to ask, or what problem did I fail to address, that—if I had— would have caused you to give me a different answer?”

The man from the theater chain responded: “Pepsi knew we were renovating our lobbies and offered to underwrite a big chunk of that.”

“We could do that too,” Walter added.

“Okay, you’ve got the account,” the theater representative replied.

Ask managers or salespeople, “What’s the biggest mistake you can make?,” and often they’ll say, “Asking for too much.”

But they’re wrong—because in reality, the biggest mistake you can make is to ask for too little. When you ask for too little, you’ll have some explaining to do when your higher-ups ask why you didn’t get more.

A better approach is to keep pushing for what you want until you receive a “no.” This will tell you that you’re in range of getting the most that’s possible from the other person. More importantly, it will be one of your best opportunities to demonstrate poise and close a sale or a deal.

Most people are scared to try this approach, because they think “no” really means “no.” In dating, it most definitely does—but in business, surprisingly often, it doesn’t. To get from “no” to “yes,” how­ever, you need to make the right moves. Here’s what to do.

Let’s say you’re trying to get a client (we’ll call him Ned) to buy a product, hire you as a consultant, or retain your firm for a proj­ect. But after you lay out the deal you’re hoping for, Ned says no.

When Ned does this, he’s feeling a little edgy and defensive because he expects you to be frustrated or angry or upset—or to start in with a hard sell, making his life hell for the next 15 min­utes. If you do any of these things, you’re not going to win Ned over. Instead, take a breath and then, as earnestly as possible, say something like this: “I either pushed too hard or failed to address something that was important to you, didn’t I?”

After Ned recovers from his momentary shock at your self-awareness and humility, he’ll nod in agreement or even say, with an awkward smile, “You sure did.” At that moment, the advantage shifts to you. Why? Because Ned’s mentally agreeing and aligning himself psychologically with you. In other words, without knowing it, he’s actually beginning to say “yes.”

Once you score this agreement (“Yes, I agree that you blew it!”), it’s time to use the Fill in the Blanks approach from Chapter 21 to build on the moment by saying, “And the point where I went too far and the deal points I failed to address were —————————.”

If Ned’s like most people, he’ll respond honestly to these ques­tions. As he elaborates on his points, he’ll do two things: he’ll get his frustration at you off his chest, and he’ll tell you what he needs from you. Both of these will give you the power to go from “No” to “Yes.”

Here’s a good example of how this technique works. It involves Luke, an account manager at a public relations firm. Luke is setting his sights on a big win: he wants to persuade Joel, a CEO, to leave a long-term relationship with his current PR firm and switch to Luke’s firm for a major campaign.

Joel: I’m sorry. We’re pretty happy with what we have now, and you’re just not quite the right match for us. But I really appreci­ate your time.

Luke: I’m very grateful for your time as well. And could I ask you just one thing?

Joel: (a little defensive): Okay, but I really don’t want to argue about my decision.

Luke: No, it’s nothing like that. I’m just wondering if you could tell me—the question I failed to ask or the issue I didn’t address that would have made you feel differently was _______________.

Joel: Well . . . actually. I just think the other agency is a better fit because they have a staff member who actually worked in our industry for a little while, and it doesn’t sound like you do.

Luke: You know, I should have addressed that. One thing we often do is bring in consultants with extensive experience in a client’s field. We did that last year with the Chandler account, because they wanted us to be able to hit the ground running. That was a big project so we actually brought two consultants on board who had 40 years of experience in agriculture between them.

Joel: Really?

Luke: Sure. Chandler was thrilled with its campaign, and gives us full credit for its jump in profits this year. So that’s just one example of what we can do with expert consultants. Our firm is only satisfied with extraordinary results that exceed our clients’ expectations, because our reputation depends on it. We know our strengths and, when we need expertise in other areas, we tap into outside people who are excellent in those areas. So, the results for our clients are always top notch. In your case, we have an outstanding recruiting team whose members can quickly identify the perfect people to provide us with industry experi­ence so we can achieve the best results for you. Because of our reputation, we can attract the best talent in any field.

Joel (starting to move from “no” to “yes”): Won’t that bump up the cost a lot?

Luke: Even if we bring in an expert consultant—someone with more experience than your current agency is providing—we’ll still be less expensive because of the money we save with our in­house production capabilities. And since we only use people who will deliver excellent results, we avoid needless time and expense down the road because there won’t be any need to fix a flawed campaign.

Joel: Hmmm….

The great thing about this approach is that the client feels in control—and is in control—the entire time. You’re not whining or browbeating or otherwise trying to overpower the person; instead, you’re letting the person freely offer the information you need to make a power play.

And yes, this is a slightly risky thing to do, and maybe not something to try if you’re a brand-new account manager or junior salesperson. It’s also an approach to avoid if you’re content with making safe, low-level deals. But if you have confidence and you’re willing to move outside your comfort zone, give it a shot—because otherwise you’ll never know just how great you can be at clinching the big deals. Just ask Walter Dunn.

Usable Insight

Until someone says “no” to you, you’re not asking for enough.

Action Step

If you’re in sales or management, think of the last sale or deal you made. Now take a piece of paper and write the answer to this question: “What more could I have asked for, and possibly gotten, if I hadn’t been scared of hearing “no?”

Excerpted from JUST LISTEN: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, by Mark Goulston. Copyright © 2009 Mark Goulston. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved. http://www.amacombooks.org.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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  1. Sounds like a very interesting read. I’d surly give it a look should Santa drop this book in my stocking this year. :). I’ve always been fascinated on how people make decisions.

  2. Always fascinating to understand human psychology behind the decision-making process. Those that get it right are the billionaires on top! Thanks for the post.

  3. Hernan

    Thanks for the reminder excerpt, Mark