The Three Types of "Yes" in Negotiations

The Three Types of "Yes" in Negotiations

From purchasing new equipment to countering your child’s request to stay up another 20 minutes, everyone negotiates at some point. This series is designed to provide helpful tips and tricks to use and watch out for when negotiating. This week’s Gold Star Negotiations topic: Is "Yes" really the golden goose? See more articles in this series.

Commonly Perceived "Yes"


It has been almost an hour. At times this negotiation has been a little heated, but you start to feel your counterpart is giving in. Finally, you hear the magic word, “Yes.” Slam the table, shake their hands, and march straight out that door with your head held high and your phone blaring “We are the Champions.” You have the agreement you wanted and the world is yours. A week later you go to collect on the agreement and find your counterpart is negotiating again. They already said “Yes,” right?  Well, the English language is complicated and yes might not be what you think it is. The book by Chris Voss, “Never Split the Difference,” reflects on three types of yes.

The Three Types of Yes

The most straightforward meaning to a yes is the one everyone assumes. This is the, “Yes, we have an agreement” version. Everyone, including me, wants to jump to this type of yes. It is a commitment. The problem with jumping to this conclusion is it ignores so much of the negotiation process. If you walk into a negotiation pushing and looking for yes, you are missing out on all the crucial details that would have led to the positive outcome.

Now let’s look at a more common use of yes. In the rural heart of America have you ever said "Yes" just to find out more? This imitation yes is a ploy to dig up more information. It might be that someone just wants to know how much to charge for their product. The problem with imitation yes is it does not end with a positive agreement.

The third yes is another common one. Imagine you have been arguing back and forth over something for the past 30 minutes with a friend. Have you ever just started to agree and said yes to end the conversation? Did your friend change your mind or opinion?  No, you kept your original opinion. The yes was just a way to end the conversation. This did not lead to a positive agreement.

How to Get the Correct "Yes"

The dangers of just working for a "Yes" should be clear. The way to avoid a bad "yes" is, strangely enough, getting a “No.” Chris Voss along with Harvard’s Program on Negotiations, discusses the power of no. By giving the power of no to your counterpart, you essentially are putting them in a place of comfort. Nobody wants to feel like a prisoner, and that feeling is what will lead to a bad yes. Through “no,” deal-breaking issues can be discovered and explored, and new game-changing possibilities are found.

You could even start off a negotiation by telling the other side that at any time they can say no, and we will stop and listen to what does not work for you. So with that go out there and work for a no so that you can get a positive yes.

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