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“No” is Only for Bad Dates

A few weeks ago, I had a rant about why it’s important to say “no” vs “yes” in a majority of situations. If you missed it, you can read it here. That article was more about staying focused as opposed to following Alice down a rabbit hole.

That’s not what I’m talking about today. Nope. I’m not. No, no, no. 

What I am talking about is how getting rid of the word “no” can be a game-changer when it comes to your travel business. 

I was standing at the airline check-in counter (no names mentioned), boarding pass in hand. And on my boarding pass, in bold lettering, was seat 25K. Sweet Jesus…sweat was beginning to bead on my brow as panic set in. You see, I am a frequent flyer.  And I’m generally pretty easy going except for one thing. I cannot handle and will not accept. 

The window seat.

No way, no how, not going to happen. I should qualify this and say that I’m only referring to flights of over 2 hours. It comes down to my pea size bladder. The idea of being stuck near a window with no direct and immediate access to an aisle so that I can get to a bathroom sets my anxiety meter to solid nineteen on a 1 to 10 scale.

Taipei to Vancouver – that’s one long flight. And I hadn’t noticed this glaring error because I’d boarded the flight in Denpasar, Bali. That first leg went off without a hitch until I looked down at my connecting boarding pass and noticed the window seat allocation. So as soon as we touched down in Taiwan, I went straight to the airline counter to figure out a solution. “I can’t sit here,” was my plea.

The airline employee looked at me with deadpan eyes and said…”What do you want me to do about it, that’s your seat?”

Well, for starters, I cannot sit near a window. I need an aisle seat. Can you put me in an aisle seat?

“No,” came back the response. She then went on to blame my travel agent who she claimed was clearly behind the seating error.  Errrr, ummm, except I was the travel agent in this instance. But semantics…

Her “No” response left me sort of stunned. I mean huh? No? What do you mean no? There must be something you can do? 

“Sorry ma’am. (yes, I hate the word ma’am! It reeks of condescension and smugness.) “Sorry, she continued. That’s the best I can do.” Ugh…sorry? Sorry? Really? The idea of having to travel 12 hours sitting next to a window with no way out other than tapping my seat mate on the shoulder…

“Excuse me, sir, while I climb over you, and inevitably lodge my knee into your stomach or elsewhere”

…is well, awkward. And for sure, I’d be having it multiple times throughout a flight, because guaranteed, being stuck somewhere when I know I can’t use the loo only makes me have to go more. The struggle is real. 

And that was it. There was no further discussion. Just a big fat “no”. I can’t help you. Sucks to be you. NEXT….

And it’s not like this was a one-off example. I hear “no”s all the time from businesses and I don’t like the sound of it. I bet you don’t either. I prefer “yesses.” As in “Yes, Ms. Molzan, we can upgrade you to first-class” or “Yes, Ms. Molzan, of course, we will get you an extra toothbrush for your room.” I like YES. “Yes” was made for me. “No” infuriates me like a gnat on a warm summer’s walk by the water. It’s annoying and pointless. I understand instinctively that everything has a purpose but Nos and gnats…the purpose remains a puzzle.

Here’s what the airline counter attendant should have said. “Ms. Molzan. May I see your boarding pass? Let me check what I can do for you.” Even if the outcome remained unchanged, notice how lovely this sounds against the harsh, cold “no” she actually used?

When I teach sales seminars, the one thing I ask my students to completely strike from their vocabularies is the word “no.” It has no business in business. Toss it out like last week’s leftover salmon. It leaves people with all sorts of negative feelings.

And it’s not just applicable to selling travel but in all areas of sales. One of my besties used to work in a very high-end hoity-toity restaurant in Little Washington, an upscale area just outside DC that attracted the wealthiest of the wealthy. She said they were actually not allowed to use the word no in any interaction with a client. 

“Miss…do your pizzas come with wild Virginian mushrooms?”

If they didn’t, the wait staff were trained to ask, would you like mushrooms on your pizza? As a response. Instead of the more obvious….”No, WTF is wrong with you? Do you see mushrooms on the menu?”  If the restaurant didn’t make pizzas with mushrooms…you better believe that someone was making a quick detour to Kroger’s to find those delectable little fungi.

And so it follows in travel sales. When confronted with the all too familiar objection…”That’s a little too expensive. Can you offer a discount?” Instead of saying no. Which I know you want to because people asking for discounts are a little like gnats and nos…. Instead, you should say…

Here’s what I can do for you. What if I replaced hotel X with hotel Y. Hotel Y is located just outside the city centre so you’ll lose some time on your vacation getting around Rome but you will save $50 per night on the hotel. Does that sound like a fair compromise to you?

You aren’t saying “No.” You are simply reframing your response to a positive. You are telling your loyal customer what you CAN do – not emphasizing what you can’t or won’t.

Or let’s say your in-laws want to book their next vacation with you but they are notorious cheapskates and haggle over everything. Plus, the rule book says never book travel for family members. You want to say no. Every fibre of your being wants to say “No Way in Hell would I ever consider it”. But instead…you smile and say…Sure, I can help you with that. I do request an upfront, non-refundable booking fee of $500 per person for my services.  See…you did it again. You didn’t say no. You reframed your response to something you could live with if they decided to go for it but chances are, Mr. and Mrs Cheapskate won’t. You are off the hook and your integrity is intact. 

It’s really quite magical. Try it sometime. I use this strategy with my kids, with my husband, with my boss – just about everyone.

Whenever you get the urge to use that 2 letter word…stop yourself cold. Breathe in fully, exhale and think, how can I make this No into some kind of Yes. Of course, it’s all semantical BS but a No dressed up as a Yes has far more power. 

Even if there is nothing you can do. As in, your hands are tied and you have zero authority to make a positive change to the outcome of the client…at least by withholding your “no” and instead saying something like…let me look into that for you. I want to help, will comfort your clients that you are trying your best for them.  And if you think abstractly, there is always a positive angle which will allow you to find some kind of a win for your client.  

Now, there are times in your life when you most definitely should say no. Frat party on a Friday night when you are WAY too lit and not practising sound judgment – No to handsy fratboy is completely acceptable. There is no need to reframe that response. But in just about every other daily interaction, try finding an alternative to no. You’ll quickly get the hang of it.

And just to follow up on my story about my airline issue I was talking about earlier… 

The funny thing is…I really should never doubt the universe. She always has my back. As it turns out, while seat 25K was a window seat, it also turned out to be smack dab in the premium economy section of the aircraft. I had been upgraded and I didn’t even know it. Now I don’t know an Airbus A350 from a Boeing 767. I assumed it was in the back of the bus. Had I taken a moment to look up my seat using SeatGuru I would have realized that sitting at a window in a 2 x 4 x 2 seating config, in premium economy, was in reality…not much of a hardship. And had she moved me to an aisle, I may have ended up at the back of the plane. 

STILL…not the point! “No” has no business in business.

You can tell I can be a little bit of a high strung traveller at times. What style of traveller are you? Take the quiz below to find out.

Diane

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