Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Learn (How) to Say No from Your Clients

What happened the last time you asked to have your rates increased or get a rush surcharge to apply or a short deadline to be moved?

In some cases the request was probably granted, but in the majority of them it was probably declined or ignored. Ignoring is the easiest answer, and the party ignored typically picks up the hint and stops bringing up the subject without need for direct refusal. Let's look at the refusals instead.

I doub they were actually flat out refusals, direct and rude, except perhaps for a couple of cases out of a hundred. Rather, they were polite and attempted to rely on arguments.

Arguments can be valid or not, but in any case they attempt to support the refusal with something. Data or emotions or a promise or threat but still something. They are not necessarily enough to covince you, they often show that you can't convince the other party easily. In some cases you decide it's not worth it, and you don't pursue your own arguments further. In other cases they leave it up to you to tell no to the potential collaboration that has been brewing so far.

You probably haven't often heard that your rates are ridiculous or exortionate. Rather, the agency (or client, in some cases) can't afford or can't offer you more than than a fraction of your rate. Possibly with a mention of the economic cirsis or how bad the market is in general.

In some cases the answer steers you toward declining the deal (so they don't have to) or accepting it on their own proposed conditions, e.g. by sending you or requesting from you a document connected with subsequent stateges of recruitement, or reiterating the request for your confirmation of the job they are offering.

Sometimes there's some talk about what their standard policy is or what the other translators accept.

Guess what. You too can talk about your policy or about rates and other terms your other clients accept. You too can use words such as: 'unfortunately', 'sorry but', 'I wish I could', 'while I value our collaboration', 'while I understand/sympathise with your situation/concerns/position' and so on, and talk about the tough market realities (which are not permitting you to hand out discounts liberally, for example).

You can also say that a proposed rate isn't leaving you much in the way of profit and that you need to pay some bills and put some cash in the banks, or that it is not a sufficient reflection of the type and amount of work you'd need to do.

You too can end with, 'please confirm this order at (…).'

Just no raw emotion but always arguments and perhaps without turning down the whole deal, only the scope of their proposal  you can't accept, while providing a fair counteroffer (which places the ball in their court).

Whether they are apologetic or adamant in their own no's, you can learn the execution from them.

Edit (27 March 2014): You're also more respectful when you give good reasons for turning down proposals, offers and suggestions, rather than handing down a flat no without explanation. Kindness and politeness open may doors. It's hard to communicate properly without respect and understanding. Your clients will respect you more if they learn that you are fair and reasonable, not whimsical or petty, which is crucial to your (personal and business) dependability, not just to your being well-liked or not.


  1. There is a certain principle in the martial arts of turning one's opponents' aggressive power against them. Apparently this works in other realms aside from the physical too. And I see from what you are writing that I am not the only one to have had that thought :P

  2. True that, sort of in an aikido way. In some cases you just step aside and the opponent crashes into the wall behind you. ;)

    But what I had in mind here — apart from the obvious hint that if it's okay for them to deny you politely and with regrets but still deny you, then it's okay for you to deny them as well (equality/procedural justice) — is that clients and middlemen know how to say no, how to justify it, how to control the damage done by denying you. You can pick up what they know, and the lesson comes free of charge.

    Essentially, one needs to sit back, realise that one's just been told no, relax, think yeah, I've just been denied, what is it that makes me not angry with him (other than my own composure), what makes me accept his refusal and not take it against him or take it against him less? What made me not walk out of the deal? Was it something in the way he said it? How can I use it to achieve similar results when I need to deny my own clients?

    This actually ties somewhat into not actually saying no — basically coming up with fair offers (in our case e.g. a more relaxed price for a more relaxed deadline) until it's the other party who quits and has to say no to the deal.

    ... But not necessarily. I've seen some very powerful results achieved by people who've said all but 'no deal'. They just let you know — by all but spelling it out (or even doing just that) — that the negotiation will soon be coming to an end unless you do something. And the ball's in your court.

    It works partly because they have rehearsed and you have not or, alternatively, because they don't care as much as you do that the negotiation will come to an end. Why they care less and you care more, again, may simply be due to the fact you weren't expecting it. Just like in that joke about the Englishman who pulls out the wrong tea bag out of the box, still likes that one tea, but it isn't what he'd been expecting. This is perhaps similar to that highschool/college dating situation in which a not so attractive person gains by pulling out unexpectedly (stick and carrot, pull and push aside, players know how to play it). There's not even necessarily a conscious game going on between you and your negotiating counterparty, it may be just some sort of spontaneous (inter)play. In those situations it helps to sit back, take a deep breath, look out the window for a while, break the rhythm to avoid getting railroaded into a suboptimal deal, answer more on your own terms and with decidedly more independence than being led on a string by someone who ambushed you.

    Anyway, people who say no efficiently often equip with some serious weight of objective support (data, hard situation, common practice, customs, laws etc.) while putting the ball in your court. Putting the ball in your court is an essential part of getting the results. Particularly if you can't produce a good enough counterargument in time you look bad (unreasonable) for refusing despite the weight of their arguments. But those arguments may well be 1-2 words rather than a full paragraph, which complicates the perception just a bit.

    1. Incidentally, a lot of what I wrote does, after all, seem to connect with your observation, as in directing the flow of energy.


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