Collecting No’s

Tonight’s homework: collecting no’s.

First, I must give credit where credit is due.  Joe Scafidi (B’95) casually mentioned the concept of “collecting no’s” when I ran into him an a Hoya networking event. I was immediately and enthusiastically intrigued. In fact, I think I might have scared him with how I reacted to this little exercise. It’s brilliant on so many levels.  It’s a short experiment in human nature and social behavior, but one that has daily implications.

The concept is this: ask people for things. See what they say.  And you’ll probably be surprised how often the answer is yes. Ask a stranger for an umbrella.  A professor for an extension on a deadline. Ask your boss to leave early.  Ask someone for career advice.  The only rules are you can’t ask the same person twice and each ask must be different.  What you typically learn is that very rarely is the answer no and that everything can be a negotiation.  The question is, how many asks do you need to make in order to get 10 no’s? Probably more than you think.

Here’s what we learned:

  • Just ask.  Someone once told me that FEAR stands for “False Expectations About Risk.” Many times we assume the answer is no before we even ask so we don’t even bother.
  • We all want to be liked. Human nature general seeks to please (or at least makes us feel like it’s socially unacceptable to say no).  This works in your favor when you are the one asking, but also provides lessons for those of us who can’t say no to the barrage of requests that abound daily.  The fact is, it’s often easier for people to say yes than to risk conflict and if the ask is in the future it’s easy to say yes in the present.
  • It’s all about the negotiation.  Things are rarely as black and white as “yes” and “no.” How do you get to the place of “yes” by understanding the needs and wants of the other party?  If you’re really negotiating there isn’t a “winner” or “loser,” you both walk away happy.
  • It’s all in how you ask. How can you ask in a way that makes it even tougher to say no?

And some implications:

  • The good news: When it comes to career networking and reaching out to acquaintances and strangers for advice, this is great news. People will probably say yes more often than they say no.  If there is a mutual connection (friend, alma mater, etc.) I would venture to guess that this increases the likelihood of yes.
  • The bad news: When it comes to our own time management and work/life balance this tendency toward yes works against us.  We over commit and wonder why we are stressed and exhausted.

Let us know how your “collecting no’s” goes!  Tweet us at #GUCollectNos