Michael Feuer: ‘No’ is one of the most dreaded words in our vocabulary, but, sometimes ‘no’ is simply the word ‘maybe’ in disguise

“No” is the one word we all hear too often. It can invoke everything from a mere sigh with a shrug of the shoulders to the sense that a dagger has been driven into our hearts.

The word “no” according to child development experts is learned around the age of eight months and is easily understood, particularly when delivered rapidly in a high-pitched voice. From there it goes downhill.

Throughout childhood and our adult lives, “no” is that feared one-syllable word in response to a hopeful kid’s request “Can I have an ice cream cone?” and to the nervous, hormones-raging teen’s question, “Will you go to the dance with me”? As adults we’ve all at one time breathlessly asked, “May I have a raise?”

Do your own research. Pick a day and keep track of the number of times you’re told “no” by those you encounter or you say “no” to others. This little exercise will serve as a report card as to how effective you are in convincing others to do it your way or, conversely, how frequently you shut others off with a premature negative response because of the way you were asked.


Not the final answer

Does this unwelcome pejorative really mean all is lost? Perhaps not.

To avoid the feared “no,” guard against asking questions that can be summarily dismissed with this two-letter declarative. To get to the opposite response, try employing the lessons from the marketing acronym, “AIDA,” which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.

Here’s an oversimplified example: rather than ask, “May I have the order?” which could invoke the path of least resistance ending in a “no,” paint a verbal picture by grabbing the listener’s attention and asserting, “I can double your business in three months.”

Next, for the interest piece, state, “I can make this happen for a mere $100.” For the third component of this formula, top off your request with a sprinkling of desire by uttering, “Everyone who has done this has been promoted.”

The pièce de résistance, to create action, proclaim, “You must let me know in three minutes.”

When you follow this roadmap you just might get lucky and the recipient of your words of wisdom will call for action and grab the order sheet from you and immediately sign.


Avoid setting up for failure

To get to “yes,” don’t set yourself up to fail by neglecting to soundly and factually explain what’s in it for the other guy. Too many people make a request without romancing the “ask.”

Sometimes “no” just means you didn’t do an effective job of presenting your request to motivate a positive response. Many times a “no” is merely a “maybe” in disguise and is your cue to forge ahead to explain the features and benefits.

Accepting a “no” can be an excuse to stop trying. Usually a “no” means “no” only after the 10th time or when the other person walks out or simply hangs up.

Michael Feuer
Co-founder, Office Max and Max-Wellness

Michael co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available.

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