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Why Don't They Respond?
Never assume they'll say "NO"

by Peter DeJager

We stunt our potential with self imposed obstacles. While I unabashedly admit this statement reeks of motivational clap trap, it's sadly still a true statement. We, all of us, continually walk past the doors of opportunity without knocking or peeking inside. That we do this is bad enough, but our reasons for doing this are bizarre, unbelievable and illogical.

Case in point: A large organization posts a new position on the internal bulletin board. It's an exciting new opportunity, good salary, lots of room for advancement and growth, no heavy lifting involved, requires a willingness to learn to use new technologies.

I was involved with this company and was surprised at the lack of people beating down the door to apply for the position. Puzzled, I wandered around and spoke to people who I knew would be good candidates for the position. Since I was on the team selecting the lucky candidate, my opinion on this held some weight.

A typical conversation went something like this.

Me: Are you interested in the new position?
Potential Candidate: Absolutely! I'd love to do that... and the 50% salary increase would be wonderful.
Me: Are you going to apply?
Potential Candidate: Are you kidding? They'd never accept me!

Understand that the job posting was very clear with respect to skill requirements. The people I spoke to knew they could do the job, but were, for whatever reason, convinced that 'they' would say "No".

Part of this 'hesitation' on the part of potential candidates is attributable to the fact that the position truly was 'new'. Nobody had done this before, therefore, nobody had prior work experience in this area.

Here's another example many independents are familiar with;

Client: We'd like you to perform this task for us, what would you charge for this?
Independent: The cost would be $25,000.
Client: Good... we'll get back to you after we check our budget.
Independent: Great, I look forward to your call.
Client: ...infinite silence as they never call back.

If the conversation does get restarted, it goes something like this.
Client: Sorry we didn't get back to you. Our budget couldn't match your fee, so we knew you'd say no... and we went with someone else.
Independent: Falls over dead with a stroke brought on by frustration.

(This, of course, has never happened to the author of this article!)

In negotiating, there is one cardinal rule. Never assume that the other party will say no. Until we put an offer on the table, we literally do not know how they will respond. We've also not 'negotiated' until we've made an offer, we've just decided, on our own, to give up.

In both of these very different examples, the problem is an almost pathological aversion to rejection.

The person who doesn’t apply for a position because they believe the answer will be "No" is deliberately avoiding the possibility of success. They do so in order to protect themselves from a rejection which has zero downside. That doesn't make much sense.

The person who doesn't make a counter offer is operating under the same faulty logic. The fear of having their offer rejected prevents them from securing the preferred resource. Here's a news flash, when an offer is rejected, there is no loss of body parts, no blood, no mess to clean up.

The irony here is that we all know the dangers of making assumptions. Yet despite this knowledge, and all the humour around this subject, we continue to assume that the other party will say "No", and as if to save them the trouble, we say "No" for them and walk away from potential success.

The good news on the hiring story was that we made a job offer to the best candidate, even though they never applied for the position. Even if she was determined not to apply, We never assumed she'd say no if we offered her the position.

(c) 2004 Peter de Jager - Peter is a Keynote Speaker, writer and consultant focusing on issues relating to Change Management and the Future. All Rights Reserved.

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