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Taking No for an Answer

The recent conviction of long-time sex offender Harvey Weinstein may have brought to a close the deeply troubling case that sparked the #metoo campaign, but it should leave us asking some serious questions about the basic set of beliefs and social norms that allowed for this behaviour to go on for years, and for “no”s to be ignored.

What “MeToo” has to do with Negotiation

Sexual aggression is a banal reality for most women even in 2020; understanding the behavioural patterns and sets of beliefs that feed it can shed light on other, less extreme human interactions, even when they do not amount to the extreme scenario of rape or assault. Each one of these interactions is a form of negotiation.

How we perceive “No” or react to rejection affects how we negotiate. Research shows that there is a difference in the way men and women tend to react to negative external feedback. Simply put, women statistically take “no” for an answer quicker. From a young age, we are conditioned to believe that insisting on what we want or believe, but fed the idea that “he wouldn’t take no for an answer” is a sign that “he” is assertive, determined and confident.

Taking No for an Answer is Healthy

Strong reaction to negative external feedback is not reserved for women only, and can afflict men too. If we try to look at this trait objectively, a healthy bout of consideration for others is desirable. It’s what makes us lower our voice when we enter a room while speaking on the phone and notice people staring at us angrily, or avoid talking about a subject that may offend a specific person.

Looking at this trait on a spectrum- one extreme would be changing your behaviour the moment you receive negative feedback, or even out of fear of negative feedback (“I won’t dare ask for a raise because what if they think I don’t deserve it!”). The other extreme would be the inability to perceive or accept negative feedback at all (“I’m so confused, how was I supposed to know she wasn’t interested?”).

Man or woman, you should have a healthy capability to insist on what you want even if someone tries to make you feel bad about it. Something along the lines of “I’m sorry if this doesn’t suit your expectations, but I only work with suppliers who can offer me a receipt”. You should also have the capability to respect one’s boundaries and accept their right to reject you- “I understand that you are not interested in marrying me, and will not throw acid in your face as punishment”.

What Shapes our “Wiring”?

Why might some of us be so absorbant of negative feedback, while others allow themselves to ignore it? It starts with how we treat our children from a young age. Consider what happens if they are given positive reinforcement for behaving in a “likeable” way, or alternatively given the impression that behaving in a “displeasing” way will result in psychological or physical punishment. Alternatively, we may give in to our child as soon as they apply some pressure- screaming, nagging, or using violence, thus sending them the message that to get what you want, you just need to keep insisting.

For example, if I scrape my knee and realise that I can get up and try again, the lesson I learn is very different than if I am told I shouldn’t participate in activities that result in scraping knees because they are so dangerous (research shows that parents are significantly more likely to restrain their daughters from physical activity that may result in injury than their sons). Similarly, being marginalised or socially punished for trying to assert myself in the workplace will lead to internalising the message that it’s just not worth my while.

Changing the Discourse and our Behaviour

Thousands of tiny such messages are fed to us daily, and repeated in movies, literature, art, toys! So much that the tautological phrase “no means no” actually requires repetition and explaining to a large part of society. It is clear that self-confidence and daring have their benefits to reap, but it is also becoming sharply clear that compulsive over-confidence and entitlement have a heavy price, and it is paid daily.

Acknowledging our conditioning and the barriers they create is a first step, and a main point of my workshops. There is no “one answer fits all” to becoming a better negotiator, regardless of what shiny books in the business section may try to tell you- some of us need to face our fear of “No” and ask “Why do I feel that sinking feeling in my stomach at the thought of asking for something?” or “why didn’t I speak my mind”, and some of us really, really need to reevaluate our automatic sense of entitlement, and its destructive outcomes.

Curious to hear more about the Negotiatress method? Check out this free training on How to Confidently Negotiate for What You Want

See you next post!

Yasmine Guerin

Founder of Negotiatress

Originally posted on March 22, 2020 by Negotiatress



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