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Reconsider the “No” Approach

A meeting pro makes the case for more diplomacy in our planning negotiations—and the world at large.

When we hear "No, we can't do that. It's not possible. It's not an option," it makes us cringe, doesn't it? In our business, we often ask for things that can't happen, but I believe there are always options and alternatives, rather than just saying “No!” For example, many planners have developed meeting contract addendum lists that make the negotiation process more effective. The conversation begins: What's most important to you for this meeting? Okay, then I can do X, Y, and Z, and A, B, C might be possible, but honestly, the rest are not very likely. I think we would all agree that is a much more palatable approach than "I can do X, Y, and Z, but that is all; it is no to everything else! (The challenge is that there can be 20+ items on the wish list, and often they are not prioritized.)

Another example is the planner whose CEO decides at 5:00 p.m. that he wants the dinner start time pushed back from 6:30 to 7:00. That doesn't sound like an unreasonable request, so the planner may be surprised to hear "Yes, we can, but..." Why not just a simple yes to this request? The banquet manager would like to say “no” because the quality of the food may suffer, the service staff may be pushed into overtime, and it may jeopardize room set ups for the following day. It's all about communication, if you understand the banquet manager's concerns and you're okay with the potential ramifications, he will be happy to push back the dinner.

Even in those situations where the answer must be no, there can be a softer approach. Falling back on my healthcare meeting planning days, physicians (HCPs) can no longer bring their spouse or family with them to Advisory Board dinners, according to Pharma guidelines. Even though the answer needs to be no, there is a diplomatic way to say it. For example, "I am so sorry, but our government regulations won't allow us to admit your spouse to dinner. I apologize that there was confusion on this point. May we recommend a local restaurant that your husband would enjoy?"

I challenge all of us to think about how we use no, even in our non-professional lives. With our grandkids, it's not just "No," but "No, thank you." If we make the dialogue more diplomatic, it should result in a more positive experience for everyone!

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