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The Power of No: How Reframing Questions Gets Better Results

I spend a lot of my time communicating with people and getting them to do new things they haven’t done before.

I can't convince anyone to do anything, but I always grab my empathy cape and work hard to present information in a way that helps others make the best decision for themselves.

There is one subtle, but deeply profound language shift that has stuck with me over the years and it is this: frame your language in a way that invites a “no” instead of a “yes.”

Everyone has been conditioned to try and get a “yes” from you. From the sleazy car salesman to your mom trying to get a “yes” to the brussel sprouts. We’ve been so thoroughly conditioned, that we put up unnecessary barriers to saying yes simply because we feel that a yes means we are getting tricked.

But when we focus instead on framing our request in a way that elicits a "no," you pave the way for a much smoother conversation.

So instead of of saying: “Are the brussel sprouts healthy for you?” (The response you want is “yes!” But the response you’ll get is *eye roll*.)

try …

“Are the brussel sprouts poisoned?” (The response you are trying to evoke is *giggle* "NO!”)

Framing a question so the response you want comes hand in hand with a “no” creates a feeling of safety and security for the responder. They feel like they are in control and empowered.

It’s not closing the sale, but it’s creating a landscape that makes your audience feel safe to receive more information.

Don’t take my word for it, someone much smarter than me in the art of negotiation goes into all the details in his book Never Split the Difference. That’s where I picked up this concept, but I’ve practiced it for several years now and I can attest to both the results and the significant difference in feeling.

Now, I can literally hear an audible cringe from all my positivity people out there. Because everyone knows that positive language is so much more effective than negative language. And they are right.

Everyone calm down.

YOU are not the one saying "no." You are using positive language to give your audience permission to respond with “no.” There is a tiny slice of the pie where positive language can be used to create a “no” for the responder.

For example, one of my favorite ways to do this in community is to create a list of reasons why someone wouldn’t be a good fit for your community.

  • Your plate is too full for new connections and friendships right now.

  • You’d rather keep doing the same thing rather than challenge yourself to grow.

  • You can't wait to scroll in a black hole of social media for hours on end.

The response you are hoping for is “well, no, I don’t identify with any of those things.”

Presenting a narrative that evokes a “no” response helps your audience feel safer, more secure, and empowered to receive more information and make the best decision for themselves.

What do you think? Will you keep trying to get a yes?

I'd love to know in the comments!

Image credit: Gemma Evans on Unsplash


About the Author

Bri Leever is Chief Community Architect at Ember, a splasher of water, and lover of books doing life in an ever-changing migration pattern ✈️


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