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Teach yourself to say no, teach them to hear it.

September 15, 2015

 

Do you find it hard to say no to change requests even when they will cause overtime and slippage to your project? Are you uncomfortable asking for more time and/or money when the vision changes after the project has started? Do you feel powerless during the negociations for the next project? Do you feel that saying no is just not an option?

 

There is a sales technique called the Yes Set Technique where the seller asks the buyer several questions to which they know the answer is going to be yes before asking the final question, the one that the seller really wants a yes to - for example:

- Do you like this car? (yes)

- Is safety important to you? (very)

- How about gas mileage? (of course)

- If we found the right price would you buy this car? (yes)

And then ...

- Come, let's sort out the details in the sales office.

 

Having said yes a few times (typically between 3 and 8) makes it a lot harder for the client to leave and the exchange will typically end with a sale.

 

If you are used to agreeing to all your busines partner's requests (e.g. publisher or licensor) you are in the same situation and it will be very very difficult to say no when the requests become unreasonable: not only will you have to break character and start behaving in a way that isn't familiar or comfortable to you, but they will not expect it and will react very strongly. You will have to find the courage to face them, standing your ground throughout their outburst while words such as "holding milestone payment" and "contractual breach" are thrown your way.

 

Chances are that if you weather their tantrum it will all work out in your favour because you hold more cards than you think: they are just reacting to the sudden and unexpected flow of power. However, this requires you to have the support of your management and very often company management will buckle and give the business partner what they want rather than risk a power struggle, no matter how likely the outcome.

In addition, even if your management supports the decision to hold fast, it's still not a pleasant or constructive situation to be in with your partners.

 

So you need to prevent those situations. You must learn to say no to your business partners regardless of how big and powerful they are. Soon after the project starts you should decline to make a change and offer an alternative, even if the change request is cheap and safe. Then do it again regularly throughout the project and you'll find that they quickly come to expect and respect your feedback and work with you to find alternatives and compromises.

 

Manage their expectations from the start and you will build a relationship where both parties can get a fair deal, paving the way for repeat business.

 

 

 

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