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At Work: How to Communicate ‘No’ Without Saying ‘No’

What’s your reaction when you ask someone for help or you make a request and that person’s response is, “No,” or “I can’t do that,” and he or she starts listing the reasons why?

It feels like a punch in the gut, right?

At Midstate Collection Solutions we’re committed to making those we talk to happier at the end of the call than they were at the beginning. One of the ways we’re able to do that is by eliminating negative words from our conversations like,

No, can’t, won’t, unfortunately, and however

and replacing them with positive words like,

The good news is....

Everything you say to someone is either bringing you closer or driving you apart. When your only response to customers, clients, or co-workers is “no,” and you don’t offer a solution or something to put them on the path to a positive outcome, you give them that gut-punch feeling. What’s more, in that person’s mind, you create a negative stigma or negative association with your company, product, or service.

Now you’re probably wondering how someone can run a business without saying “no” because sometimes the answer is “no,” right?

Let me walk you through an example from one of my training sessions with city employees.

During my session, an audience member raised her hand and asked, “So you want me to tell people, ‘I've got great news. You have a parking ticket?’”

I told her, “Yes.” I followed up with: “You must have some good news. Tell me some good news.”

She thought for a second, and then she said the city had a new app that provided a more convenient way to pay for parking. If people downloaded it, they could avoid getting a parking ticket ever again.

I told her I thought that was great news and to share it with the next person who called in with a parking ticket.

Her call could then go something like this: "I know it's really frustrating to get a parking ticket. Nobody likes getting parking tickets. The good news is we have new app that could help you avoid getting a parking ticket ever again.”

Because the reality is, we can’t just give in and give everyone everything they want all the time, right? We can’t just tell people that they don’t have to pay their debts or they don’t have to pay their parking tickets. But we can still communicate with them in a way that makes them feel heard and valued.

I get that sometimes it can be tough to offer a "good-news" proposition or to reframe a difficult conversation into a positive one. Another way to think about it is this: always tell people what you can do, instead of what you can’t do.

Even if the solution is not the exact one the customer is looking for, there is always something you can do, and demonstrating your willingness to find an alternative solution can help create a positive connection with that customer.

For instance, with the parking ticket example, the city still needed that person to pay his or her ticket. To reframe the conversation into a positive one, the city employee could also say something like, “We have several different payment plans available, and I’m happy to walk through those with you.”

I’ll be honest. Eliminating “no” from business conversations is tough. It takes quite a bit of thought and an open mind. It didn’t happen at Midstate overnight. We had to think through many scenarios that could come up with consumers and plan how we were going to say “no” without saying “no” or what we were going to provide as our “good-news” proposition.

Despite all this behind-the-scenes work, it was so worth it. Changing our words from negative to positive helped reduce consumer complaints, improve consumer and employee satisfaction, and build connections. In fact, in the first year alone, our revenue increased 34%!

Try it! The next time you are conversing with a customer, client, or co-worker, avoid using negative words, and let me know what differences you see!

I also want to hear from you! When the answer is “no,” how does your organization communicate that? Or when customers bring concerns or complaints, what good news can your company offer?

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