"Yes" to the Person, "No" to the Task

Negotiating to Meet Everyone's Needs


Do you feel obliged to say "yes" whenever someone asks for your help?

You may be worried that saying "no" will damage your relationship with them or harm your reputation.

It can be difficult to turn down a co-worker who needs your help or a boss who dumps another assignment in your lap. But if you say "yes" every time, you risk taking on too much and becoming burnt out, missing deadlines, or losing sight of your own priorities and goals.

In this article, we'll discuss how to say "yes" to the person, and "no" to the task by negotiating successfully, so that you can meet everyone's needs – including your own – without conflict or feeling guilty.

Meet everyone's needs – including your own – by asking yourself these three questions.

Negotiating Basics

The word "negotiation" conjures up images of high-pressure situations, where people have a lot to lose if they get things wrong.

In fact, you probably negotiate several times each day. You do it at home and at work for all sorts of things, from deciding what to make for dinner, to settling on terms for a job promotion. Because of this, you are a negotiator, even if you don't think of yourself as one!

Negotiation is simply the act of reaching an agreement as to how you'll move forward. It's the process of communicating back and forth, and finally having all parties agree to a solution. There are many ways to arrive at this agreement, but there are three main styles of negotiating:

Hard Negotiating

Some people view negotiation as a game they have to win. They use "hard" negotiation tactics, and this often leaves one party very satisfied and the other side with no choice but to agree. The problem with this approach is that the relationship between the two parties is often permanently damaged. The person asking for something may receive it, but the second person probably feels taken advantage of and, perhaps, angry and resentful. If it wasn't really a willing "yes," the second person is unlikely to complete the work quickly, or with a positive attitude.

Soft Negotiating

The opposite approach is to accommodate. This is when one party yields their position and original goal, simply agreeing to what the other person wants. This "soft" tactic is often the result of wanting to keep relationships friendly. The end result, however, is that this person doesn't get what's needed, and they lose control to the other person.

Free Workbook Offer

Increase your productivity and reduce stress with this FREE workbook when you join the Club before midnight, January 31.

Find Out More

Principled Negotiating

Negotiations that aim for mutually satisfying outcomes are often best. These are sometimes called collaborative, integrative, or principled negotiations. The techniques used to conduct these help negotiators to find a solution that shows high concern for the needs of both sides. The result is a win-win solution: rather than one side giving up a "position," the focus is on finding a new position where everyone is happy and is satisfied.

In the book "Getting to Yes," based on the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project, authors Roger Fisher and William Ury outline four parameters for principled negotiation:

  1. Separate the people from the problem.
  2. Focus on interests, not positions.
  3. Generate a variety of possibilities before making a decision.
  4. Define objective standards as the criteria for making the decision.

Excerpt from GETTING TO YES by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton. Copyright © 1981, 1991 by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

If you use these elements as the basis of your negotiation, you'll be more able to find creative solutions to the problems you're trying to solve.


Our article on Essential Negotiation Skills is a comprehensive guide on how to prepare for and confidently carry out negotiations.

Assertiveness and Negotiation

To use the principles of principled negotiation, you must be assertive. Forget the idea that negotiation means giving something up. Instead, this new process frees you to get what you need.

So, when your boss asks you to be on another committee, and you don't really have the time, you don't have to say "yes" or "no." Instead, approach the situation as an opportunity to negotiate.

Does the new committee offer career development opportunities that fit with your long-term objectives? If yes, perhaps you can give up another assignment in exchange, or maybe you can negotiate hiring an assistant so that you can reduce your workload. This might even be the time to renegotiate your job description and redefine your roles and responsibilities within the organization!


See our articles on assertiveness and managing your boundaries for a full discussion of these topics and tips on how to communicate more assertively.

Whatever the situation, if you view negotiation as a collaboration, you say "yes" to the other person by respecting their needs – at the same time that you give yourself the opportunity to say "no" to the task itself.

When to Say "No" to the Task

Not all requests should be negotiated. Sometimes when your boss asks you to do something, you need to say "no."

Here are some key questions to ask before saying "no" to a task:

  • Do I have time to do it? Think about how urgent and/or important it is. Where in Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle does this request fit?
  • Am I the right person for the task? Consider whether someone else is better suited to the job.
  • Does this request fit with my goals and objectives? Create an Action/Priority Matrix to determine fit.

If your answer to any of these questions is "no," then you may be best off saying "no." (There's more on how to do this below!)

But remember, it's usually unprofessional to say "no" to a task just because you don't want to do it, you don't understand how to do it, it will take a long time, or it's messy and complex.

How to Say "Yes" to the Person but "No" to the Task

If your answer to the task request is "no," then figure out how to say "yes" to the person at the same time. To do this, make sure that you explain your justification, so that it's clear that you're only saying "no" to this particular task – and possibly only on this occasion. If the other person understands why you've said "no", they are less likely to be left with the impression that you're simply being unhelpful. However, you may also have to be firm about how you say "no."

As we've discussed, saying "yes to the person and no to the task" may also mean negotiating different arrangements to accommodate the request in a different way.

To say "yes" to the person, first answer three main questions:

  • What does this person really need? Find areas of flexibility and determine their priorities.
  • How else can this person's need be met? Find a different frame of reference or approach to the problem, then look for time and resource alternatives.
  • How can I support this person to have the need met? Define the larger goal and look for common interests and needs.

High levels of trust and good communication are essential to this process. Although there's no guarantee that trust will lead to a good solution, mistrust will almost certainly harm collaboration. People who don't trust each other tend to be defensive, and this often leads people to look for "hidden agendas" or withhold information.

When people trust each other, they're more likely to communicate their needs accurately. When they share information about what they want, what they need, and why they need it, this can lead people to cooperate to look for a joint solution. And when you work in an environment of respect and trust, it's much easier to reach an agreement without compromising your needs in the process.


Saying "yes" to the person but "no" to the task generally involves a conversation, rather than just a one-sentence response. However, here are some examples of how you can do so in simple situations.

"I'm sorry, I can't do that analysis this week. Can I do it for you next Wednesday?"

"I'm sorry, I can't take on doing this analysis on a regular basis because Alex wants me to prioritize development work. But I know Viktor is working on developing his Excel skills. Would you like me to show him how to extract the data so he can take this on?"

"I could do that analysis, but I wondered what information you actually want from it. If it's the conversion rate from the advertising campaign, would one of the measures in the report that Marketing sends round give you what you need?"

Key Points

We all negotiate, and we do so regularly. And even though the extents of our negotiations vary, one principle remains the same: when both parties win, the outcome is often better. Whether someone asks you for a favor, or you need to agree on terms for a contract or project, you must collaborate to achieve a win-win solution.

When you collaborate, you consider everyone's needs. Therefore, even if you have to say "no" to something, you're still concerned about finding a way to get the other person's needs met, and this allows you to say "yes" to the person. Integration and collaboration are keys to this process. So, the next time you have to negotiate, look for a way to meet everyone's needs, rather than leave one side with little or nothing.

Many thanks to Club member MichaelP who came up with the phrase "Say YES to the person and NO to the task" in this discussion in the Career Café forum.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

Show Ratings Hide Ratings


Rate this resource

Comments (23)
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi smasoud,

    A warm welcome to you and thank you for your feedback on the article! If there is anything you need, please ask us. The Mind Tools Team is here to help. Do pop over to the Forums when you can. We'd love to here your voice over there.

    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago smasoud wrote
    Thank you amazing
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi aamiraterri39 , and Welcome to the Club!

    Thank you for sharing with us. Be sure to let us know if we can help you in any way, and we'd love to hear your voice in the Forums as well.

    Mind Tools Team
View All Comments