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The “No” Reflex

Have you noticed that some people just like to say “no”?

I’m not talking about your four-year-old child; these are your co-workers or customer service employees who, for a number of reasons, always respond in the negative.

Saying “no”

I’m dealing with a situation where I need a person’s help, and for every question I ask the answer is “no.”

“Can I submit a rezoning request for residential?”


“Can I pay my fees with a credit card?”


“May I make an appointment to see your supervisor?”


“Is it okay to submit my application electronically?”


You get the picture.   This person’s first reaction is always “no.”   It’s like the famous American comedian and master of quick wit Groucho Marx saying.

Whatever it is, I’m against it.

How to Deal with a “No” Person

Begin by understanding this person’s attitude is out of your control.  Sure, you may soften them up over time, but in the end, you will be the one responsible for figuring out how to work with them.  So, here are some tips that will help.

  1. Attempt to understand the hierarchy and this “no” person’s role. Are they the gatekeeper keeping the undesirables from gaining access to the workings of the inner-office?  Or, are they just lazy and a first salvo of “no” is a way to chase off the people who are not willing to work for them?  They may just be naturally surly, and their daily goal is to find a parade to rain on.
  2. Once you encounter a “no” reflexive person, be aware that you will need to figuratively put in teeth guards, strap on shoulder pads, and lead with your award-winning, most charming smile. You are in for some work.  Only proceed if you are ready for a challenge in which you must win.
  3. Find something you can ask that will elicit a “yes,” or even better, a slight smile. Finding something you can help with is a good starter.  Be careful with casual and funny comments.  If you pick the wrong topic, such as commenting on hair color or the most recent holiday which they hate, you will pay dearly.
  4. There is only one pace to get through a “no” reflexive person—their pace. You will not be able to rush them.
  5. Try reframing the question so it is not “yes” or “no.”  In my case it became, “I know you have done hundreds of these requests, should I ask for single-family zoning or a duplex zoning that allows for single-family buildings.”  Yes, slightly patronizing, but they could not answer with a “no.”
  6. If all else fails, find a way around this person. For example, if it is a receptionist guarding the front door, wait until this person goes to lunch and then go to work on their replacement.

The Bible

Encountering a “no” reflexive person is a great opportunity to practice your empathy skills.  Understand that in today’s labor market, everyone is busy and many are stressed by both work and personal life.

And while we are also busy and stressed, as business leaders we need to always display a helpful and caring sunray of light into the lives of people we encounter.

Romans 15:13 says.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Encountering a “no” reflexive person is your golden opportunity.  Sure, you need to work around this person and get what you need to be done.  But it is your chance to show this person what a “yes” reflexive person looks like.