While listening to the “You Must Read This” segment on NPR, in which impassioned writers recommend a new or old book that rocked their world, I got to thinking about all the business books I’ve read over the years. What “big idea” rocked mine? It came to me in a blink: “Start with No,” as inculcated in an eponymous book I read a few years ago, written by negotiation trainer Jim Camp.
Turns out I wasn’t the only reader to love Start with No. It’s a classic that’s still in print, on a topic that’s evergreen. It went on to be a Wall Street Journal bestseller, has been translated into 12 languages, and is still selling strong on Amazon.
As a nice Midwestern gal who was brought up with the notion that, aiming to please is the ticket (“You attract more bees with honey than with vinegar,” as my mother used to say), imagine my shock when a fellow Midwesterner (Camp hails from Ohio) informs me that the best word in the English language is “no,” and that learning how to use this word will help me get what I want in life. What’s more, I don’t have to be rude to say it.
In the beginning of Start with No, he explains that even toddlers understand this. They know that “no” signals the beginning of the dialogue, not the end. In fact, he goes on to prove unequivocally that saying “yes” or “maybe” is the absolute worst thing you can do in any negotiation. Both words bring real dialogue to a screeching halt.
So how does this apply to business transactions or everyday life? Camp says if you want to get a negotiation off on the right footing, with you firmly in control, start by inviting the other party to say “no.” You’re granting them the right to veto, which puts them at ease, gains their trust, and brings them to attention.
Once you do this, you can start working your magic on the other party using Camp’s systematic, step-by-step approach to negotiating that helps you get exactly what you want!
Camp’s “No” model is the opposite of collective bargaining, win-win, and “getting to yes.” He says all of these systems are obsolete in today’s cutthroat global business environment, because they’re based on a flawed premise — trying to please the other side — rather than on a structured system built on sound decision making.
Readers learn the dangers inherent in such sacred cows as compromising, having positive expectations, and being friends with your adversary. He shows readers how to “blank-slate” their emotions so that they make decisions based on solid information, rather than on neediness, excitement, hope, wanting to be liked, desperation, or other emotions. We also learn how to listen and observe in the moment, which means getting rid of our previous assumptions or biases that always lead to negotiating errors.
Camp generously dishes out other pro negotiating tools designed to knock the other side off balance and get them using their emotions — which gives us the advantage. For example, we learn how to apply “The Lt. Columbo Effect” — dressing down, even being a bit klutzy or forgetful — to make the other side feel superior to us. We learn how to ask questions in a way that gets our opponent “spilling the beans” while we’re calmly collecting valuable intel to build their vision for them. We learn how to discover their pain, problems, issues, and objectives so we can eventually paint a vision of our proposal as the best way for them to achieve their objectives. (Clever!) And we learn how to create a mission and purpose — or what we want out of the deal — that’s framed in our adversary’s world, so that by eventually saying “yes” to want we want, they will see that it offers benefits for them, solves their problem, and makes the best sense.
When he saw that there was a wider audience for his famous negotiation approach, Camp wrote a sequel called NO: The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work or Home, which I also recommend. Both books are illustrated with examples from real-life negotiations, present practical tools, and give detailed steps to follow that keep you from making bad deals and prevent you from being caught off-guard in any kind of situation — whether in business settings or in everyday life.
If there’s anything you walk away with after reading these books, it’s that win-win negotiating is for naïve amateurs and will get you killed at the negotiating table. Camp introduces a better way to hammer out deals, an effective approach he’s been using in the field with teams and individuals for 30-some years, and that’s now taught in MBA programs from NYU to Harvard. As a negotiator for governments, multinational corporations, and high-level executives, he’s managed transactions worth more than $8 billion. Now he also teaches his famous model at Camp Negotiation Institute, which offers credentialed skill courses to organizations and individuals who wish to develop professional negotiation skills.
I’ve used the “No” system over the years and it’s been a welcome antidote to my tendency to people please. Turns out, people give you a lot more respect when you show them that you don’t need this car at this price, you don’t need to take on this job, and so on. I’m learning to stand my ground and invite the other party to walk away. Starting with no always gets their attention and gets them talking — and that’s when I know I’ve got them where I want them. Nice!
For every situation, whether you’re trying to nail down the best deal on a house, get your teen to do homework, land a job, secure a raise, or win a multimillion-dollar contract, the strategy is always the same. You’ll find it in Start with No. Really, you must read this.