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Interview: Jim Camp, Author of The Power of NO

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I got an opportunity to have a sit-down with one of America’s leading negotiation trainers and coaches, Jim Camp. Camp is president and CEO of The Camp Negotiation Institute, which offers advanced online credentialed skill courses to organizations and individuals who wish to develop professional negotiation skills. He is author of The Power of NO, a six-CD audio program produced by Nightingale-Conant, the top publisher of leadership development products. His two best-selling books, Start with No and NO: The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work or Home, have been translated into 12 languages. We discussed his philosophy behind the word “no.”

Your name has become synonymous with the system of negotiation made famous by your books Start with NO and NO. Now you have a six-CD teaching series called The Power of NO. How did the whole concept of “no” come to be?

After going off active duty from the air force in 1973, I got a job selling water softeners. I did exactly what I was told. The gurus who wrote up the scripts taught me five or six different closes; they taught me a lot of slick things to say. I went 0 for 40 in my first three weeks in the field. Since I got paid by commission, I was starving, had a young family to feed, and I hated it.

I was so tired of getting kicked in the teeth that I just went back to those 40 prospects the fourth week and out of frustration told them, “Look, please just tell me no. I don’t want to bug you; I don’t want to chase you; I don’t want to come running around here. I don’t want you to not want to me here. Just tell me no, and I’ll close out and leave.” And a miraculous thing happened. One person said, “Well, Jim, I just couldn’t afford it last month, but I can afford it this month, so I really do want a water softener.” Over that next week or so I sold about 20 water softeners using this “start with no” approach — and I never looked back. That’s when I started putting my system together.

I think most people would prefer to hear yes!

That’s a common misconception. Let’s take a look at the word no, and the power of no. What is no, really? What is it to you? Well, to the professional negotiator it’s simply a decision, and it’s a decision to be changed. But do you know what the really great pros know? And what I teach and coach? People gain comfort when they say no because it maintains a status quo. It’s the safest decision your opponent can make. So no is nothing more to the professional negotiator than a decision to be changed.

So, if people say no because they’re afraid of change, then the negotiator’s job is to help them feel safe with the change?

Absolutely. Great negotiators seek the no because they know that’s when the real art of negotiation begins. But you know, there’s something else that’s very interesting about the word no. When you give someone permission to say no to your ideas, the emotions go down; the effectiveness of the decisions go up; and they’re allowed to really look at what you’re proposing. They’re allowed to hold it in their hands, to see it in their mind’s eye, to turn it around. To try to envision all the different complexities that might come with that thought, that idea.

What do you mean by “the emotions go down”?

Well, think about how you feel when someone is pressuring you to say yes. You feel trapped. You feel frustrated. Or you find yourself looking for a compromise, because that’s what you think you’re supposed to do.

Now consider Webster’s definition of “negotiation”: “Negotiation is the human effort to bring about agreements between two or more parties with all parties having the right to veto.” The right to veto is the right to say no. If you tell your opponent from the beginning that he is welcome to say no to your proposal, you will see him visibly relax. It’s like giving a wild animal food through an open door. Soon it will be eating out of your hand, because it knows it can escape out that door at any moment. That’s how you build trust in a negotiation. “No” lets you have your opponent where you want him — eating out of your hand.

Okay. So what are you feeding your opponent that will get him to say yes, then?

Eventually, you’ll be giving him a vision of his problems, needs, pain, objectives, and goals that position you and your proposal as the solution. People make decisions based on emotions, not logic. They may think they are making decisions logically, but neuroscience has shown us that at the moment of decision, it’s 100% emotion. The vision you build for your opponent using the Camp System of Negotiation that I teach will enable them to arrive at that very emotional moment when they will recognize the benefits you offer, and view it as their best option. At that moment, yes becomes easy.

Obviously, “no” is just one component of the Camp System of Negotiation. Is your system difficult to learn?

It’s not difficult to learn. But it takes time and practice to master. The main hurdle students of this model have to overcome is unlearning bad and unhelpful habits. They have to learn how to clear their mind of assumptions and be a completely open book. They have to learn how to become emotionally neutral — and particularly how to get rid of neediness. They have to learn how to create a mission that puts the interests of their opponent above their own. They have to completely unlearn the harmful things they have been taught about negotiating — seeking win-win solutions, getting to yes, and compromising. But once you get into the “no” mindset, all your negotiations — discussing a problem with your spouse, buying a car, asking for a raise, making a deal with a contractor, or nailing down a big business transaction — will be painless, natural, and successful.

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About Patricia Gale

Patricia Gale has written and ghostwritten hundreds of blogs and articles that have appeared on sites such as Psychology Today, Forbes, and Huffington Post, and in countless national newspapers and magazines. Her "beat" is health, business, career, self-help, parenting, and relationships.