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Negotiation Spoiler Alert: They Might Say No – 6 Steps on How To Respond & Pivot

Spoiler alert: they might say no! When you’re negotiating, receiving a NO can be painful. It can also be part of the process. You might get told NO in a negotiation. Asking for what you want does not always have a favorable response. And that’s okay. Read on to figure out what to do in that situation and how to pivot. They might say no. But you will be ready.

(Another version of no could be “there aren’t any funds left” – check out this post):

I know you don’t want to be told no. Nobody does. But honestly, it’s a part of the process.

Not all the time. But statistically speaking, some of the time. They might say no.

I know it feels so much better to be told yes. It feels so much better to get what you want. But let me go a little bit deeper. If you always get everything you ask for, could that be a sign that you’re not taking as big of a risk as you could? Are you asking for enough? Is it a sign you’re underpricing yourself? Have you undervalued some part of the equation? We don’t have to go there (yet). But just think about it.

No doesn’t always have to be a negative, either.

As a former colleague once told me, NO can symbolize New Opportunity. N.O. = New Opportunity. That’s a new mindset for NO.

Don’t be surprised by the spoiler alert. They might say no. Be ready for it.

If you’re told no in your negotiation, keep reading for what to do next.

What To Do If You’re Told NO (in a negotiation)

  1. Sit With It
  2. Respond With Silence
  3. Respond With Counters
  4. Walk Away
  5. Reassess
  6. Pivot
negotiation spoiler alert: they might say NO - how to pivot

1. Sit With It

It’s not fun if you’re told no. But don’t make any sudden movements or drastic decisions, at least not right away. Take in the information. Listen to what they’re saying. What is their rationale?

Really listen. Give them room and time to speak. They have the floor. Let them explain.

Work to Understand by Asking Questions

After you’ve taken the time to listen, this is your time and opportunity to ask questions.

I know a lot of people who talk too much in negotiations. I know almost no one who asks too many questions.

Deepak Malhotra, Harvard professor and author of ‘Negotiation Genius’

This is your opportunity to get curious. Questioning is a very powerful move in a negotiation.

*Remember to avoid WHY questions and focus on WHAT and HOW. Why feels accusatory whereas WHAT and HOW questions feel more collaborative (Voss, 2020).


  • “How can we make this work?
  • How should we proceed?
  • What are the next steps?
  • How would you like to proceed?
  • How can we overcome these challenges to get there?” (The Art of Negotiation, Chris Voss, 2020).  

2. Respond With Silence

We often feel the need to interrupt silence and fill it. Fill it with what? Anything, really. Silence can seem awkward and uncomfortable. Let it be. Refrain from speaking. Don’t fill the silence. Let it be awkward and uncomfortable.

Giving it a beat and letting there be some silence 1) allows you to think and 2) let’s them know they can respond. If you stay silent, this is often the time they begin to fill this silence with the reasoning behind it and all the rationale of why it’s a no. You may even be enlightened and they may automatically begin answering the questions you had jogging around in your head of “why not?”

they might say no negotiation tip:

Silence is a powerful tool in negotiation. Use it. It doesn’t just need to be viewed as a psychological tool to get more information (although it is). It can also be seen as a sign of your professionalism and that you’re taking the time to listen to their reasoning.

Silence speaks.

Silence can also show how you’re feeling without even having to come up with the words to express it. Don’t doubt the power of silence. Practice it. Feel (at least a little bit) comfortable with it (or feel totally uncomfortable with it and just implement it anyway). And use it to your advantage.

3. Respond With Counters

*This is a reminder to practice counteroffers before your negotiation.

Practice how you will respond to various counters they may give you:

  • “We don’t have enough funds left”
  • “The budget is tight right now”
  • “Inflation is high”
  • “The supply chain is really impacting our business right now”
  • “You didn’t meet your quarterly targets”

Try to be ready for as many responses as possible. Make a list with 2 columns. Write out a list of all the ways they could respond in a “no” fashion on the left side and then write how you will respond on the right side. Then practice it out loud so you know what you sound like. Go a step further & record it and listen to it (tough but helpful).

If the no is more personal about you, for example: “You didn’t meet your quarterly targets” – practice how you will respond. Maybe you onboarded 3 more people and mentored 2 and took on another coworker’s project while they were out for an extended leave. Practice so you’re ready for it and you know you want to respond.

Practice the items out of your control, too. Have your successes ready. If they say that profits are down by 12%, be ready to state how you raised your team’s revenue by 16%. Numbers are powerful. Know your evidence and be ready to share it.

Spoiler alert: they might say no and that’s part of the process. It might even be what they’re initially instructed to do for every negotiation.

For more tips in addition to practicing counteroffers before your negotiation, here is a list of other items to complete before negotiating:

4. Walk Away

Not everything needs to be resolved in the here and now. Not everything has urgency and immediacy. You can step away to think about the situation and how you want to respond. You can take the time to think about your next move.

There’s no rule that says a negotiation has to be figured out by the end of the meeting. Many negotiations are a back and forth over a period of days and weeks or even longer depending on the type of negotiation. You don’t have to figure everything out right away and you don’t have to leave the meeting pretending like you’re okay with it either.

You can leave the meeting unresolved and walk away from it. It doesn’t mean you’re done with the conversation forever, just for right now.

This gives you an opportunity to think about what you want to do and an opportunity to consult others.

It also gives the other party the opportunity to make changes or figure things out to potentially get closer to or grant your request.

5. Reassess

Another tip is to know your Option B before you begin your negotiation. If you didn’t identify it previously, now is the time to identify it. If you did identify it before, reassess to see if you’re still in alignment and it’s what you want.

Having an Option B means if the negotiation didn’t go the way you wanted, this is the next step you take. Some examples include:

  • Negotiate a different item /items
  • Have a conversation with a decision maker about how to receive what you want and specific steps to take to get there with specific outcomes
  • Update your resume
  • Focus on networking
  • Apply to other positions (return with a counteroffer or… don’t return)
  • Leave your job
  • Start a savings fund to have a buffer if you need to leave your job

Not all of these steps have to be taken or be taken at once. They are examples of options if the negotiation does not reach a positive outcome for you.

Spoiler alert: they might say no… and that’s okay. Because you have thought about that. And you have an Option B.

Communication can go a long way, so if that’s possible in your situation, being open and communicative about your goals, where you see yourself, and where you want to go, can be helpful.

*Let your manager or boss know before annual review time (if you still have those) that you are ready for more. Make a strong case and let them know. Make sure there’s time to have the conversations necessary (potentially with your boss’s boss) to make sure there are funds, openings, or whatever your ask is about. Letting them know early helps with this process.

6. Pivot

After you’ve reassessed, now is the time to make your next move. Will you negotiate something different? Are you going to dust off that resume? Will you enhance your network? Are you prepared to look for something different? Will you leave? Are you willing to communicate what you need to grow in the position?

This is the exciting part. This is where you act. It’s scary. But it can be thrilling, too.

N.O. = New Opportunity

they might say no: possible options for when there aren't any funds

What If I’m Always Told Yes?

That’s great! Getting a yes is fabulous. Don’t discount all of your yeses. They’re great. And they feel good.


Do a quick assessment of your yeses. What do I mean by that? Are people saying yes too easily? Maybe a boss or a manager again & again? Maybe they really realize your worth and all that you bring to the table.

Spoiler alert… maybe you’re underpaid

Or maybe… you’re underpaid. And so what you asked for is easy to give to you. A bargain even. Because you were underpaid in the first place and what you asked for wasn’t nearly as much as the going rate for your talent. It doesn’t have to mean that, but do a quick check. Research online. Ask around.

Spoiler alert: they might say no – and if they don’t (over and over again), start getting curious. Don’t overthink it the first couple of times. It’s great they said yes. But next time, maybe bump up your ask a bit.

Having the other party be a little uncomfortable with your ask and having to go “figure it out” instead of immediately responding “yes” isn’t a bad thing, after all.

One piece of great negotiation advice is: if you’re not uncomfortable, you didn’t ask for enough.

So get a little uncomfortable with your ask and make them a little uncomfortable, too.

Spoiler alert: they might say no and that’s okay. That’s part of the process. And you’re ready for it.


*Expert: Deepak Malhotra, Harvard professor and author of ‘Negotiation Genius’
Youtube Video: The Best Way to Win a Negotiation, According to a Harvard Business Professor | Inc. (2018)

*Masterclass: Chris Voss’s Master Class on The Art of Negotiation. @thefbinegotiator (2020)

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Disclaimer: While the contents of this post and blog come from research and personal experience, each experience, situation and/or person has their own unique circumstances. This is not negotiation, financial or any other form of legitimate or official advice from an expert. Each individual should do their own independent, comprehensive research. Negotiation, career and all other decisions are the sole responsibility of each individual or party. Details found on the blog and in individual posts are opinions and should be treated as such for entertainment purposes only. Read further disclaimer information on the Disclaimer page.

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Negotiation Spoiler Alert: They Might Say No – How To Pivot