Why 'Yes, if...' is better than 'No'

InTouch - Newsletter - #49

Welcome to the forty-ninth edition of "In-Touch". As always, I would love to continue the conversation so please let me know what you think.

Story of the Week: Why 'Yes, if...' is better than 'No'

My friend Costas Galatariotis recently told me about a conversation that he had two decades ago with one of the most prominent and respected diplomats of his generation. The two of them had been talking about the recent collapse of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks and Costas asked: “Wouldn’t you agree that [Palestinian leader] Yasser Arafat had valid reasons for rejecting the plan that was put to both sides?”

“Yes,” replied the diplomat, “but, in politics, you should avoid using the word ‘no’. Instead, you should say ‘yes, if…’ and, if your ‘ifs’ are met, all is well and good. If they are not met, then the other side is forced to say ‘no’ and it will be considered to be acting in a negative way.”

‘No’ has correctly been described as “the mother of all negative words”. As every parent knows (I speak from experience), it is often one of the first words an infant learns to say and research suggests that the average child may hear the word ‘no’ over 400 times a day and ‘no’ (or ‘don’t’) over 148,000 times while growing up! However:


  • If ‘no’ was a road, it would be a one-way street and not a four-lane highway.
  • In customer service, ‘no’ creates tension because it leaves customers feeling that they have to come up with their own solution to a problem.
  • In teams, saying ‘no’ may demonstrate inflexibility and an abandonment of creativity. Rejecting a teammate’s solution without providing your own in response is a sure-fire way to slam the brakes on any conversation.
  • In negotiations, just like the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, a ‘no’ can lead to deadlock and an end to talks.
  • In couples, a frequent ‘no’ can become a cause of a break-up. 
  • To children, a parent’s ‘no’ without an explanatory ‘why’ can sound like a dictatorship.


Costas had been aware of the diplomat’s stance on the Palestinian-Israeli issue in 2000, so he was surprised when the man declared himself disappointed by Arafat’s rejection of the peace plan. His story taught me a very important lesson – one that applies not only to politics but to business and possibly to all human interactions – and it is this:

A conditional ‘yes’ rather than an outright ‘no’ keeps the door to conversation ajar; it allows you some breathing space in which to formulate a response and it doesn’t expose you as the intransigent party. By saying ‘Yes, if…’ to an offer that you might easily refuse, you are taking a positive approach to it and leaving space for a compromise which, hopefully, the other side may find acceptable. Be diplomatic!

Words of Wisdom

On compromising

“Compromise is the best and cheapest lawyer.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

A Question to Ponder, dear friend.

“Think of a situation you recently faced where you said an outright 'No'. Now think (and let us know please) how things would have turned out if you have opted for 'Yes, if...'?”