3 Strategies To Help You Cope With The Fear Of Being Told No


Does the fear of being told ‘no’ hold you back from asking for things?

“I’m sure this boutique doesn’t give discounts, I’m not going to ask.”

“It doesn’t say you can substitute ingredients in this salad. I’ll just order it as is, even though I hate onions.”

Or how about this one:

“My boss knows how hard I’m working. I’m sure I’ll be recognized eventually.”

You were brought up to be a polite person, so asking for something that’s not obviously available might seem rude.

While this instinct is fine in shops and restaurants, (though I would argue it’s always ok to ask, so long as you’re courteous) it no longer serves you when it comes to your career.

Here are three strategies to help you get over your fear of no.

1. Practice when the stakes are low.

Think of this as ripping the band aid off: you just have to do it. Start asking for things, even if you know you’re unlikely to get a yes. You’ll start to realize ‘no’ isn’t a disaster, and desensitize yourself to the heart-pounding feeling that you’re going to get called out and reprimanded in public. If you’re polite and respectful, the worst thing that happens is… nothing.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Traveling? Ask for an upgrade on your hotel room, or to have your parking fee waived.

Joining a gym? Co-working space? Ask them to waive the initiation fee.

Still have cable? Call your cable company and ask them to lower your rate.

These are great practice opportunities because you’re likely not expecting them to work, so you can practice without genuine fear of ‘getting in trouble.’ You also aren’t likely planning to maintain a long term relationship with any of the specific individuals you speak to, so if things don’t go perfectly, it’s ok — it will most likely never come back to haunt you.

2. Get clear on your why.

When it comes to asking for something where the stakes are higher — like a raise — spend some time self-reflecting. Why is this raise important to you? Ask yourself who celebrates your success with you. Who in your life would be so genuinely thrilled to hear your good news?

Why does negotiating matter, when it would be easier to just take what they give you? Well, more money, for one thing. But you might also quietly say to yourself, “I’m negotiating on behalf of all women, since women are underpaid compared to men.” If you believe a rising tide lifts all boats, you should do it on behalf of anyone, everyone, who is underpaid.

Women perform well when they negotiate on behalf of others — this is known as representational negotiation. If, during your conversation, you can mentally frame of your negotiation as representational because you’re advocating on behalf of that special person who wants to cheer for you, or others who are underpaid, you can get a kind of halo effect.

3. Make a plan.

Winging it is not an option, and a little good preparation goes a long way. Think about the issue from your counterpart’s perspective: what does he or she want? What would make it easy for them to say yes to you? This is the secret sauce to negotiating: most people are busy thinking from their own perspective, so take the time to really step into their shoes and ask yourself what matters to them. If this is difficult, try asking around, either from those who know this specific person, or others in your network who might have valuable insights.

This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.



Alexandra Dickinson

Alexandra Dickinson is the CEO and founder of Ask For It, a boutique consulting company working to close the gender wage gap by effecting change at both the institutional and individual level. We work with companies, schools, organizations and individuals through a combination of trainings, workshops and consulting. Our goal is for women and men to be paid based on their talents and skills, regardless of gender, and for our company to have been an important part of that change.