Smart Yesses and Wise Noes with Lisa Cummings

Check out these free negotiation guides:

– Conflict Resolution Guide

– Partnership Success Guide

– Car Negotiation Guide 

– Negotiation Style Guide

– List of Negotiable Business and Personal Expenses

– Salary Negotiation Guide

– Car Negotiation Guide

– How to Negotiate While Introverted

How to Listen:

– Listen on iTunes

– Listen on Google Play

– Listen on Stitcher

Listener shout outs:

Tamara from DC

Erica from LA

Kemmi from San Francisco


This is another fun interview! Today we’re talking to my friend Lisa Cummings. Lisa is a StrengthsFinder performance coach, her company is called Lead Through Strengths and her podcast bears the same name.

Her mission is to help people find and leverage their unique strengths at work. Here are a few things that I want you to focus on in this interview:

  • We discuss how you can use your unique strengths to persuade and communicate with others,
  • We also talk about how to connect value to the cost of your services,
  • We also discuss how to say no effectively

I could go on, but I’m going to keep this intro short because this interview is jam-packed with great info! So without further ado, let’s jump into the interview.


I am here with my good friend Lisa Cummings, we met earlier this year at Podcast Movement and we spoke for well over an hour in the hallway instead of going in and meeting other people and learning more things about podcasting! So I was like, “Well, we might as well have this conversation and memorialize it.” – So here we are! Thanks for being here.


I love that – memorialize it – yeah, get some value for other people as well. And it was so great to be able to meet you through our friend Scott Barlow, it’s always great, it’s easy to kick off an hour long conversation with someone you just met when you’ve been connected by somebody who knows you already have something in common.


Exactly. For those of you that don’t know Scott Barlow – he’s my business coach and he has a podcast too called Happen To Your Career – so check that out when you get a chance. And Lisa has a podcast too! So you need to check that out.

I guess I’ll give you the floor so you can tell us more about what you do and a little bit about your podcasts too.


My show is called Lead Through Strengths and that’s actually also the name of my company. It’s a training company, we speak and do workshops with corporate teams on this premise that using your strengths at work makes you a stronger performer at work. So we hope these teams find each person’s specific natural talents and then work on those and exploit those rather than trying to fix weaknesses – which is the lifelong endeavor that I find most teams are doing – and that’s a very draining effort.

So that’s what I do, and I think being on your show related to negotiation is that I don’t consider myself an expert on negotiation, yet I’m definitely a student of it, definitely a student of people. You could call it ethical persuasion but I think of more like influence and the ability to find alignment between people’s goals so that everybody is getting something they’re happy with getting at the end of a conversation or a transaction. And that’s what we were talking so long about in the hallway, that I think prompted you to memorialize it here.


Exactly, and I thought that was so interesting, the idea of ethical persuasion or ethical influence, and blending it with what you do, because your focus is really helping people within the workplace.

So how have you seen your ability to negotiate or persuade manifest itself in the workplace? Or how have you seen other people use it successfully?


Well it’s interesting, in the business that I do specifically where I help people find their unique strengths and use them at work, I see that manifest, because they can use the stuff they’re already good at instead of trying to use a formula or something like that. It is using their superpowers to work – so let’s say you’re really analytical, you might want to nerd out on the data and finding great stats and proof points that really matter to someone, and bringing insight to a client that they wouldn’t have had without you.

Then you take somebody different who’s really high on communication and all that jazzes them is being able to find the perfect story to make something resonate to help their clients understand something in a way they couldn’t have without that story. So I see it manifesting in the workplace through my work like that, because when you use your own talents, you show up differently and the conversation goes very differently.

So that’s it as the deliverable through what I do at work, and then while I’m negotiating my own deals I use all sorts of stuff – ‘focusing on fit’ is one that I think is really important, exchanging value rather than your margin when someone’s asking for a price reduction is another one. Conceding with a plan in mind before you are asked for a concession – those are probably the three biggies – happy to dig into any of those. Those are the ones that are actually biggest when I’m working on my own deals.


That’s really interesting. And I think, I don’t know if you feel comfortable doing this – but maybe we could analyze your strengths and talk about how you utilize your strengths when you are persuading?


Oh, good angle, that’s fun! One of my top five talents is called individualization – and I’m using these terms by the way from StrengthFinder, that’s my favorite tool, I use that on the frontend of most of my training programs – and individualization is one where I love to find that thing about the other person that helps us relate to each other. And a lot of times, it’s finding similarity areas, but more often it’s actually finding areas where we’re different. So I can just get really curious and understand what it is that makes you tick.

So when it comes to clients, I’m finding what’s the unique thing about their culture, or what’s the thing about their problem that’s really wrecking their gut, and how can I really help them? So it makes me want to customize all the time. It makes me want to customize my messaging to them, it makes me want to customize my emails. In my brain, I see these two circles, one circle is me, and the other circle is them – and if you push them together and overlap them – there’s this area that’s relevant to both of you, something that you both care about. So that’s what I’m always out there looking for, and my talent of individualization helps me spot that and then start the conversation from there, because it’s something we’re both going to care about.

So that’s one example – I have plenty more that I could go into, but that’s one talent and one way that I use it in business!


I think that’s a great example, and finding common ground is always a good place to start when you’re trying to persuade somebody too.


And it really lines up with that thing I was talking about with “focus on fit”, I first heard that phrase from my friend Ian Altman, he owns – and it’s just this idea of literally focusing on the fit. Does your service offer fit their needs? And it helps you stay in service of the customer and do that with integrity, because if you’re always focused on whether you’re a good fit, you’re going to find a win for all the parties. Or you’re going to be able to tell them honestly, “I’m not your best solution for this, and here’s a person I can recommend.”

And I think it’s so cool, because once I really started doing that, it’s a bonus that they react really well to it. They’re not defensive about the conversation, they don’t have their guard up, wondering what solution you’re going to try to cram down their throat. When they see you’re not desperate, and you’re not worried about that part of it, you really do want to find the best for them. And I feel great even when I’m not a good fit for everybody, and when I’m not I have a friend I can send them to and I stay really well networked with people who do other things – or even other strengths businesses, they just deliver differently – I can send them to a person who matches them really well and that makes the dynamic so much more pleasant. Why go through life feeling on edge with each other? Instead this really just helps everyone feel open to finding the right answer – whether or not that involves me.


I really like that point, because focusing on fit, you’re less defensive, and they’re less defensive, and you’re not desperate. And it also relieves pressure because really you’re just trying to figure out whether or not this works. And so one of the things I always say is, I look at negotiation as the art of deal discovery, not necessarily deal making. Because if you look at it like deal making, the pressure is on you to try and make it happen, you feel like you could force it through. But if it’s deal discovery, there’s less pressure because you have an open and honest conversation with the other side and you see whether or not there’s a way you can be creative and work together to make it happen. And if not, no problem.


That’s a great phrase.


And earlier you said one of the three things that you look at is focusing on value and not margins. Can you go a little deeper into that?


Yeah, it happens all the time that people say, “Ooh… that’s actually not in my budget.”

Or, “We were thinking it was going to be more like this…”

Or they might just ask for a discount, because I do business often in the corporate world, and sometimes it’s just part of the corporate culture that no matter what price you throw out there, they’re going to ask for a discount because they want to feel like they got a deal!

So I think the idea of exchanging value rather than your margin is to say, before I’ve gone into this conversation, I have some ideas in my mind of ways that I can reduce the scope of my offering if they want me to reduce the price of the offering. Or how I could add value that I didn’t talk about before to justify the higher price for them.

Some of these things are really simple as well, like I do these champion meetings, or I’ll do executive briefings. So they might be hour-long meetings that happen after a workshop with champions, it’s how their internal people are going to be able to take this stuff and do something with it longterm so that it’s not just an event and then they forget all about it. So it’s enabling the champions for an hour to really make a plan and execute this over time at their company; or an executive briefing might be getting their senior leaders on board so they get the premise of this thing, they’re supporting it and they make sure that they’re in alignment with it and they’re mentioning it.

For me, I’ve already traveled to another city, that often ends up taking me three days even if it’s just for a one hour speech. I live in Austin, Texas, I can’t get a lot of places direct, so I’m going to spend a day traveling on the front end, a day traveling on the back end, and then the event day. So if I had an hour of time for one of these champion meetings or executive briefing, that’s easy enough for me – no big deal. So it’s extra great value for them – normally they would be paying me thousands of dollars to come back and do that separately – so they’re getting great value add because they’re extending this implementation throughout their company and they’re getting it in one swath instead of paying multiple times. And I’m getting something better out of it because instead of giving away price or margin, I’m offering them something of value to make this more significant in the organization.

So those are the things, it’s exchanging value and always thinking about when they ask for something – this kind of gets into the concession one as well – if they ask for something, then I’m asking for something in return and we’re actually back and forth in a different perspective. So I have all kinds of creative things that I use so it’s not just, “Okay, I’ll discount price.” and that’s the end of the conversation.


I really love that example because the one thing that you said that might seem miniscule, but I want to focus in on that is the back and forth. Because when you’re negotiating it should be like a dance, you take one step one way and then another step backwards. But often people get into the position where they’re negotiating against themselves and the other side takes two steps forward and you don’t take any steps in your direction too. So I think that’s a really great point that you said, that you’re not giving away anything without getting something in return. And you can be creative by not focusing 100% on what margins -the dollar amount- but focusing on the value and trading things. If they want a discount you can decrease the value and save some time on your end, and then if you want to get a higher price, you can increase value and then trade that for some money. I think that’s a brilliant example.


And that dance you brought up is like that concession part. I learned this from a company I actually used to work for called Corporate Visions – and they call it concede according to plan – and the idea is very much like your dance. Ordinarily, or what I used to get stuck in was people throughout the process in between your first conversation and a deal getting made, or them deciding that another solution would work better for them – a lot of things happen that I wasn’t even thinking of as a concession.

So they may ask you, “Hey – can you present to our executive team.”

And that’s after you already thought the deal was done with this specific person, and then you realize they actually weren’t the decision maker, they have some person or three who have veto power, and now they want you to present to them.

Well in this presentation to them, it’s almost like the hour long speech that you would normally give and you would charge for that.

So these things sneak in, and they’re not trying to deceive you, but they’re actually concessions along the way. They’re taking up your time that in your attorney type of world would be billable hours – so it’s those where if they’re asking for those kind of customized practices throughout that you’re thinking, ok… and what could I ask for in return?

It could be something about making sure you have the right executive in the room, it could be having a detailed selection criteria so that you know what criteria they’re making their decisions on so you can customize your moment with that team so that you can actually get this done. But even if it’s a thing, even if it’s information you’re asking for – you’ve thought about that. And when they ask you for something, you’re asking for something in return so everyone one feels like value is getting created – and it is, because you’re able to be more relevant to them as well – and you’re not just giving it away and cheapening the interactions with you.


And essentially what you’re doing is you’re expanding the scope of the things that are valuable to either side. So for you, obviously it looks like money, that’s what we want, we want more money – but you’re realizing no, it’s not just that. If I’m going to do this, and you’re not willing to pay more money – maybe something that is valuable to me is the information like you said. Maybe it’s a referral. And thinking outside of the box is a great way to create more overall value in these deals.


And it’s fascinating once you start to get creative and just think – what are the things that you care about, and what are the things that they care about? And if you can, find the magic concessions – the ones that are easy for the person giving it away and high value.

For me for example, if they wanted to lower the price and I was able to add more value by giving away online program access to some of their employees who are remote. For me, I’ve already created it, and it is high value to give it away – but that’s a lot easier to give away than putting me on a plane and having three days of downtime to have a one hour meeting with their executives. So I’d be way more apt to give away some licenses to an online training than I would to give my person time away for an hour.

But they might think the sales price of one license would be so off kilter when you start looking at the pricing they would assume it would be the other way around. Those are the ones where you can get really creative and create really high value for the other party, because of the effort equation when you start really getting into it and getting creative.


That’s one of the keys to value creation – trading things of unequal value. So in your experience, how are you able to find things that they’re willing to give away that doesn’t cost them much, but it really valuable to you?


Interesting – one really relates to a longterm relationship, so one thing I value is for example, I have a couple customers that do quite a lot of volume, where about every other week I’m delivering an event to them. So imagine a big company that has training academies or corporate universities, and they want to offer StrengthsFinder training as professional development to all employees. And they just want to put it on rotation because they have a lot of new hires and they want to offer it all the time.

So I know inside of this deal that we may do 30 events in one year – that’s going to add a lot of value for me, because I can staff for that in advance, I can plan – it really helps my year, not just for revenue but also for planning and being able to serve them better and customize along the way. So that’s a huge one, and I’m willing to give up often many things if I have a statement of work that reflects a really large amount of either sometimes it’s strengths consulting on retainer, sometimes it’s doing leader coaching with their leaders so they can find the strengths of their team and use the talents of their own to influence their leadership style, often it’s the repeat of training classes.

But those are the kind of things that when the deal is going to be deeper in their organization, then I can find all kinds of ways to be more creative.


I love it! And let me ask you this – and I’m asking this because I already know the answer to this – how long did it take you to really get comfortable making these creative deals? Was it something that just came to you as soon as you opened up your own shop or how long did it take?


That’s funny! So you know number one, I love saying yes to things. So if there’s a new client or a new thing to try out, then I do have a yes problem sometimes that I’m trying to reform from, so that’s still a work in progress!

I do think that lifelong, naturally I am a decent influencer in that I’ve always been others-oriented, I’m always thinking about what their interests are, because that’s how I understand people and make meaning of the world, so I think that helps me a lot – so in some ways, it’s always been there for me.

But negotiation, man – I’m not an expert, and I am just collecting and experimenting as I go along, I’m experimenting with all sorts of things. Any time I see a training company, owner or professional speakers who do really well… and I’m in some groups where we share these kind of creative ideas, I have an Evernote and I’m collecting them and I’m thinking – how can I get inspired from this? How would this apply to me or to my customers? So it’s really, I feel, a lifelong experiment. And I’m even doing it constantly from customer feedback, or a future customer, a prospective customer. If someone reaches out to me and based on their feedback they either jump on an idea, or they kind of go dark or go quiet – I take note of what the situation was so that I can see that fell flat, or that really landed, that makes people want to go, “Now!” And then I can start to customize programs that solve those kinds of problems for people.


I love that answer because it really exemplifies the fact that this is a journey, so we’re constantly getting better at this. I guess we’re close to Rio still, think about you being on a balancing beam – you’re not ever going to be perfectly balanced, but you’re going to continue to make constant adjustments as you start to wobble. Once you get better, there are going to be fewer wobbles, but there still will be wobbles! So I guess the advice to the listeners on this point would be after every time you have a conversation or an opportunity to persuade or negotiate, do a little post-mortem, look at what you did that was good, look at what you did that wasn’t that great; and think about how you can be better in the future. And be patient with yourself, because it will take some time to get to Lisa’s level!


That’s funny, I would love to hear the experiments that people are going though. and I like your metaphor of the balance beam and it reminds you of core strength, because you’re going to have core things that you’re personally good at that are going to be different from someone else’s natural tendencies and you can lean on those, and then you start spotting the things. Ooh, where did my toes hang off in a way they weren’t supposed to? Or where did I let my arms flail around? Or what’s catching me off guard?

And then if you’re watching for them, you can see that’s the thing that gets me, or that’s the thing that doesn’t seem to resonate with people, and then you can make adjustments.


And let me lean on your StrengthsFinder experience here, let’s say we have somebody who’s very analytical and maybe they don’t have very much EQ, emotional intelligence. So how would you say they should approach negotiation focusing on their strengths? Because you’re a person who focuses on the other people, you’re a people-focused person – what about for those individuals who are just almost straight analytical and aren’t a people-person like you?


Right, it’s absolutely possible as well, and they’re going to bring something that I don’t bring or can’t bring. So I would do things like if it’s a public company you’re working with, dig into their financials, understand, read their letter to the shareholders and understand what the chairman is saying about where they’re headed as a company, and start analyzing how you line up to that corporate strategy and how you could support it.

The ability for someone really analytical to find legitimate stats or dig into the research and bring those insights – those are things that someone like me, I value those and I like those – but they’re more of my opener or my closer, but I don’t have the super-depth behind it. some of my clients who are really high-end analytical, I’ve seen things like for sales people who are super analytical – and that’s not necessarily the most commonly seen thing – but when I do, I see people who have spreadsheets where they’ve considered all of their competitive advantages, they know all of their competitors and their competitor’s pricing, and they can make pivot tables out of it, and understand all sorts of ways to slice the data that would give them insight into how to approach the deal and who might need to be involved, and how they could come at this one to show their best.

So I think it’s knowing whatever that thing is, and then letting yourself go nerdy in that way! If you’re an analytical person and you have deep subject matter expertise, then be the knowledge partner, be the one who helps bring insights about the industry that your customer doesn’t even know because you’ve been geeking out on it because you love that stuff. For me, that wouldn’t be as much my space, but for that person, that might be how they win them over and how they win more customers.


I love it, I think that’s exactly what they should so. And you can tell when somebody’s trying to operate too far outside of their element and they get away from their strengths, it feels unauthentic, and it comes off wrong in a negotiation because a lot of times we can sense the inauthenticity but we don’t know what it is that we’re sensing in particular. So that might come off as being untruthful even though you’re just trying to be somebody you’re not.

And whenever you operate outside of yourself, it makes it a lot harder to bridge that trust gap, and that trust gap is the distance between any deal, and kind of agreement or any kind of relationship. So just be comfortable being who you are and learn how to maximize those unique strengths that you have.


You’re bringing back some memories for me. I remember one of my first jobs was in sales, and this was back in the late 90’s when a lot of companies didn’t have the internet yet – I know, that sounds really crazy and it makes me sound really old! – but I was selling phone lines, because everyone was really reliant on their phone lines, this was long distance and local service and also the internet – and I thought this is so cool, because that was early adopter stuff, to be able to build an intranet and to be able to cast a future vision. And so I was really excited about what this internet thing was going to do for businesses.

So conceptually I thought I really like the product, this is going to be neat. And going into it, the company was not good, and it in fact went under relatively quickly. But I came in and realized it was really working against my values. The way they wanted me to sell it was with a very specific pitch that was already scripted – so I count use my own words. I couldn’t cast the vision of the future the way that I wanted to – they wanted me to go in, cold call x number of doors with this exact script.

So I couldn’t read my audience and adjust, and then as I got into it further, I realized the company was terrible, they were just trying to acquire business and they weren’t coming through on the service on the other side of the deal. And so I started walking into people’s businesses, and they were running me out saying, “Oh you work for them – get out of here.” And they’d cuss at me and say horrible things just because I was associated with them.

So once I realized that, at first I thought it was a fluke, and I would go to the mall and go the Franklin Covey store in between the day to refuel with positive thoughts, I would go look at their Franklin Covey planner and Zig Zigler tapes that I had in the car to refuel. But then I realized, this isn’t going away, this is a values misalignment or whatever you might call it, I couldn’t sell that product because I didn’t believe that it would get serviced on the other side. So then it just wrecked my ability to talk about it or do it, and I had to quit.

So I think that’s another important one where you’re talking about aligning with you, and that also gets to – do you match the company culture? Do you believe in what you’re sharing with the world? because I don’t feel like today and owning this Lead Through Strengths business, I don’t go out there and go, “I’m selling something to people!”

I feel like I’m able to change the world because I can help people feel more productive at work and get more energy at work – it doesn’t feel like I’m selling something. So if it feels any way to you other than this is an awesome gift that I can share with the world, then you might be in the wrong spot. Because if you’re negotiating for something you don’t believe in, you’re never going to show up at your best in that conversation.


Wow, that is so deep! And it’s really important, because when you think about anything that you’re really passionate about or something that you like – like for me, my favorite kind of ice cream, since I’m a rebel, is vanilla with sprinkles! I can’t get away from it, I don’t know what it is! I’m a really adventurous eater, I promise, in all other aspects – but with ice cream, vanilla and sprinkles. But if I’m telling people, if I’m evangelizing about vanilla and sprinkles, I don’t feel like I am selling, it doesn’t feel inauthentic. But if we start talking about something else, my heart wouldn’t be in it.


Yeah, if somebody said, “Ok, Kwame, you are Rocky Road salesman, and you need to use these words to describe it.” and they are words you don’t believe in or you wouldn’t ordinarily say, you can’t show up as the best you, it’s impossible.


Exactly, I would be a fraud.


You would be a chocolaty nutty fraud!


Exactly! Oh man, that’s so funny! So I guess the moral of this story, everybody needs to find their vanilla and sprinkles and operate from that position!


I love that – I’m totally gonna use that – what are your vanilla and sprinkles?


Well let’s wrap it up with this, because one of the other things we talked about was the ability to say no, and earlier in the podcast, one of the first five or six episodes. I talked about how to say no, and I really liked what you were talking about, your experience in saying no, and your experience in saying yes when you should have said no, and how you’ve gotten progressively better at saying no.


Yeah, I’m getting there. I think the first is the realization, so there’s this mindset part that is first, your personal brand is what you’ve been doing. So if you’re getting known for the stuff that you don’t like to do, people are going to ask the person that they last interacted with who’s good at that. So are you building a personal brand around activities you don’t even like and keep getting asked to do things in that area? That’s a big red flag. You’ve got to say no to those.

And you want to say yes to only the things that build you into the work that you want to be doing in your life. And then the other is this realization in the mindset camp, which is if you say yes too much, your performance is going to go downhill. So you’re getting these requests because you’re a great performer and it feels good to say yes to people that you care about or respect – but hey, if you say yes too much and your calendar gets too overbooked and it starts spreading you thin or making you feel deluded and you’re losing sleep or you’re skipping workouts or you’re not giving time to family and these things that make you feel filled up, you’re eventually going to see poor performance creep in, and it’s all in the name of what? Trying to satisfy somebody or say yes again?

So those things are the first, getting your head right about what you’re saying yes to. And then the other is just coming up with strategies. So here’s what I’ve been doing, because I’m still in reform mode trying to get better at this. and my calendar by the way, is reflecting yeses that I made a year ago – so think that’s another huge lesson. These yeses last a long time.

And being able to say it is coming up with a way that feels good for you. So I call one of them a “slow no” and it’s just something that I’ve been doing to give myself time to consider a request and craft an answer. So I thank people for thinking of me for the opportunity, and then I tell them, literally, “Thanks for thinking of me for this and be specific about it – let me look at my calendar and my commitments for whenever it is, and I’ll get back to you by…” and be really specific, I’ll get back to you by Friday, I’ll get back to you by tomorrow. And it gives you the opportunity to not out of your exuberance or your commitment to them or whatever it is that makes you say yes – if you’ve preplanned it and you feel comfortable, even if it’s in person, you can remind yourself – do the slow no, because you may want to say yes to this, you may want to say no, but give yourself a second and have those words ready so that it feels comfortable to not accept in the moment, that’s a huge one.


I think that’s a really great way to handle it, and giving yourself time is powerful, because oftentimes we feel kind of cornered and we want the person that’s right in front of us to feel good about what we say and what we do, and we think the best way to make them feel good in the moment is yes. not really having that longterm mentality, thinking about how our performance might lack and that it would make them feel bad or hurt the relationship in the future, and yourself because it’s something you don’t really want to do.

But for a lot of my listeners, I’ve realized that a lot of them are actually in the workplace, so they’re in the corporate environment. So sometimes they are receiving asks from people in positions of authority. So from your experience, how would you suggest that they say no to a manager or their boss? How can they have that conversation?


I’m with you guys that are experiencing that! And that one’s the toughest, so I have an example. I had an executive boss who I loved and respected and had so many good ideas, and he would bring good ideas and I, over time, concluded that the only answer that was good for him was yes, and was, “Alright, here’s how we’re going to get that done.” And that is how I like to approach things, here’s how we can get to yes.

But then what I was doing to myself was over time I let in creep in, creep in, creep in, I thought that all my yeses were going to be intervals of work. This is going to get really busy and I can just brute force gut it out for this month and then it will go back to a little more sanity. Well, that’s not how it turned out. He is full of great ideas, he’s amazing. And so he brought more, and more, and more. and finally I had to come to him and do this thing where I said, “I’m waving my white surrender flag, I have to get more resources to be able to keep committing to these new projects.”

And when we finally had a conversation about it, he said, “I just thought you were a superstar, I never would have stopped giving this stuff over, because every time I gave you more work you absorbed it and pulled it off, meeting deadlines and everything else.”

And so here I am, thinking he must realize that this is me working until midnight and I’ve given up my drum lessons and I’m doing really cruddy or not doing workouts, and I started getting really burnt out. And eventually I started even resenting the lack of acknowledgment about how much work this was taking – it wasn’t like an outward, deep resentment, but it was like I would think things like, “maybe I’m not cut out for this environment.” But that wasn’t at all what was going on – people can’t read your mind! They don’t know. And if you’re not a whiner, which I’m not, I wasn’t reporting, “Do you know that every night now I’ve been working until 1am for four weeks straight?”

No – I didn’t say that, I just got it done. And I was thinking, he must know. But he didn’t.

So I think a big one in the workplace is figuring out your own version of the slow no really. More often it’s focused on scope and priorities where you’re able to say, “That sounds like an awesome idea, that sounds like a great project, I’d love to get involved with it – let’s talk about scope and priority so we know what we can cut or postpone to make room for it.” and find those phrases like that that open the conversation so you can say this is going to take 30 man hours a week, and with the resources on the team we can do this – let’s talk about what we can reorganize or even sometimes it’s not the important priority once you look at everything that’s on the table.

So I think it’s getting the slow no kind of phrase around scope and priority that works.


I really like that because the exploration of scope and priority forces the other party to go through some reality testing. Because like you said, a lot of times we have an assumption that they understand what we’re going through and how long it’s going to take, but sometimes our superiors are a little removed from the front lines and they don’t remember how difficult it is to get these things done.

So I really like that idea to walk through the scope and how long it’s going to take and what it’s going to require, and then they might come to that conclusion themselves – this really can’t be done.


Right – and that keeps you really focused on the business outcomes. Because it’s easy when you first hear one of these requests – you might even think that the project is awesome, but what I hear people doing all the time is they’ll go, “Oh I don’t have time for that!” or they freak out and they’re thinking about the seven steps later that they’re going to be doing and they get really negative about accepting projects. So give yourself the freedom to explore the excitement of the idea, so they know that you’re not squashing everything and you’re not negative Nelly in the workplace.

And then the other thing that comes up is that people automatically feel, “I’m so busy, I haven’t seen my kids enough, I feel very stressed out.”

And those things may all be valid and your boss may care about you a lot, and actually care about those things, but really, the perspective you need to filter through is the business. “I want to bring my best performance to the business, so let’s make sure we have the workload balanced out in a way that it brings attention to the biggest priorities, so let’s talk through what the priorities are and let’s talk through what the workday looks like.”

And so it’s the filter, and I think scope and priority works for both parties where you can look at what’s getting done, what’s most important, and it doesn’t get into the “I feel really stressed out.” That’s valid, but that’s not really something that I found as effective to lead with.


Wow, that’s deep. And another thing too I just realized, this could be applied for entrepreneurs as well. So when we think about it as entrepreneurs, we often think we’re free, we’re the lone ranger – not really. We have bosses, and they’re called clients! And a lot of times they ask to do things that unrealistic too. So going through that same slow no process and walking the clients through what it really entailed to get that work done is going to have the same kind of benefit for entrepreneurs as well.


I think it’s huge, both for entrepreneurs and for somebody who’s in a regular employee scenario in the workplace. Know what you’re becoming, what do you want to get known for in the next year or two? And then this work when it comes to you – is it aligned with that? And as an entrepreneur one thing I see all the time is that we have a lot of ideas and we might change course, and three years, five years from now, you might be doing something totally different from where your business started.

I know I am, I started as a business to consumer career coaching kind of thing, and now it’s business to business, and it’s training and speaking, it’s different. And so if you are not consistently keeping yourself in check with these slow no’s or staying in touch relationship-wise with people and keeping meaningful relationships going – they don’t know what to know you for. And so they come back to you and they ask you for work on a project that reflects your focus five or seven years ago, because that’s how they know you, and you’re thinking, “Oh gosh, I don’t want to disappoint this person, I really respect them and like them – but they don’t know the new program here!”

So I think that’s a big one as well, you might be memorable from work you’ve delivered long, long ago, and people don’t realize that unless you say yeses that align with who you want to become and what you want to be known for in the future.


Wow. I love that, that is so good. And it’s funny because I’m thinking about my inbox right now and some of the clients that I have, I’m going to have to hit some folks with a slow no! So this is really helpful for me.

I know your time is coming up so I wanted to ask you one last question, and that is: what do you think is something that our listeners could do today to become a better negotiator?


I think that they could come up with a yes criteria, a set of yes criteria. I have three of them, I think that’s a good number – start to apply them and tweak them over time, and come up with the big things in life that they want to say yes to so they can filter all of their opportunities in front of them through that.

That’s going to work for an employee, that’s going to work for an entrepreneur, and I’ll give an example of one of mine, I call it Duty Free. I’ve realized that when I really am honest with myself, I like to be a spark. I want to some into an organization, I want to do that speech or that workshop, and then I want to equip them to take it from there and implement on their own. so I like to provide the tools for them to be able to do it.

I used to say yes to deliverables work that gave me a lot of duties that would last for a year or more, and so a play on words on at the airport duty free shop – but I am calling it duty free! And so I filter opportunities from that. Is it going to be a project, those feel personally for me like they hang over my head for a long time – some people are great at those and love those – for me, I don’t, and so it tells me whether to say yes or no to an opportunity because I’ve thought of these. And so I have three of these criteria, and every big opportunity I filter through them.

So that one thing I would do is start to make your list. Come up with three things that you could filter all things through. One for me is lifestyle, does it support the lifestyle I say I want to live? So for me that’s doing a lot of virtual events and not only living on the road and being on airplanes. And then fun is third one – will I actually enjoy the work and the client? So I keep it very simple, they’re big picture, and they give me a filter to think through every opportunity. And what that helps me with is for the client that I love or the person that I adore working with – if the work is not a good fit, it keeps me in check so that I’ve actually considered it before I say yes and commit.


Wow. So I have officially adopted all three of those into my own personal rubric, I think that is absolutely brilliant, because a lot of times we just don’t really have a formalized criteria for whether or not we’re going to say yes, and I think this really makes our decision-making process a lot easier when we put things through this test with a little bit of rigor and it makes it easier for us to say yes or say no. I really, really, really, like that!


Good! It has helped me so much – what do you think will make you happy for the next couple of years? Start filtering through that, and then keep changing them. I’ve really tweaked mine because I’ve filtered through this and I’ve found a couple of things that have come through that really weren’t feeling like the best yeses for me later – and I had to question what’s going on? Why did that not work out for me and what do I need to tweak about these criteria? And over time you’re able to refine them a little bit.

So even if you cheat and use mine to start – keep looking at them and see if they’re vetting out the right things for you to say yes to.


And how do people connect with you and get access to some of your content?


Lead Through Strengths is the podcast, I’m @LisaCummings on Twitter, and my website is

You can email me at [email protected] – I’d love to hear you ideas too because I feel this is all a lifelong experiment, so the more ideas and trades and value exchanges and all those kinds of things that you guys are using, I’d love to hear them and get inspired by them too!


Thank you so much for joining us today, this was really helpful, I really enjoyed it.


You’re welcome, I enjoyed it as well!


Kwame Christian, Esq., M.A. Negotiation Consultant and Negotiation/Persuasion Coach

Keep listening to the podcast to learn the keys to confident communication, “compassionate curiosity”, conflict resolution, conflict management, negotiation, influence, and persuasion.

American Negotiation Institute

Related post