Why do we say No – The Rejection Theory

why do we say No?

The real reason behind a rejection

Why do we say No? What is the actual reason for a rejection? 

There are two things you need to know before we answer that question. One – ‘Logical decision.’ is a myth! The process of decision-making is more emotional than it is logical, and Two – we are all experts in deluding ourselves.

If I ask you: “Why are you reading this right now?”

You might say – “Because I wish to improve myself as a person, learn new skills!“

That could be the real reason, but it could also be a more correct-sounding answer to justify to yourself. The real reason may be something else altogether! It might be that someone recommended this article and might ask you for feedback, or that you had some free time today and just happened to stumble upon this website.

I am not saying it has to be always that way, but it often is. We make a fool of ourselves very often in trying to be politically correct, ethically correct or socially correct. We do have a knack for it.

Here are a few questions which usually get deluding answers:

“Why do you love me?”, or “Do you love me?”

“Why do you work for your company?”

“Why do you think you are the best man for the job?’

For similar reasons, the answer to the question – “Why do we say no?” may not be just as simple as you might think.

Rejection during a Negotiation

I wrote a few posts in the recent past discussing Negotiation theories; ways to control a talk by listening more than you say, Breaking the Self-serving Bias or believing that Everybody is a Good guy. 

Now, as a negotiator in the professional world, it is critical to get the real reason behind a rejection from the person on the other side. Why do we say no in a professional environment?

When someone tells you a NO, and you want to break that into a YES, you need to know where the NO came from. There can be several reasons – some apparent, others not so much. Try to understand ‘Why do we say No’ before attempting your workaround.

Why did he reject my proposal?

Probable reasons for a rejection:

Okay, so I have put across my proposal, and it got rejected. Let us look at several possibilities behind that refusal.

  1. He does not like me
  2. He does not like my idea
  3. He did not clearly understand the idea
  4. Budget constraints
  5. He wants to negotiate further (on price, duration, etc.)
  6. He cannot decide & feels better rather to reject than to say he’s unsure
  7. Someone else recommended a better way
  8. It isn’t protocol
  9. His Political/Social views are in conflict
  10. He has a poor experience with a somewhat similar idea

So ‘NO,’ does not necessarily mean the person does not like your idea. Several emotional factors are affecting it.

This list is not conclusive; the real reason can be extremely varied. It depends on the person’s mindset, his background, the situation, the stage of negotiation, etc. What makes it trickier is that you might not arrive at the real reason by just asking the question:” Why did you reject my proposal?”

Rejection in a relationship

Why do we say no to the people we love or care about?

When you receive a rejection in a relationship, the hidden shades are quite similar. The real reason may not be what is apparent at the first glance. Whether you are a teenage boy declaring your love for your girl, or a husband asking your wife to come to that get-together, the ‘No’ might mean something beyond the obvious.

Why do we say No?

So why do we say No?

We can break the probable reasons behind a rejection into three primary categories:

Type 1: Apparent and glaring reasons

Certain reasons would be easy to understand simply by asking. For example – during a professional negotiation if the other person thinks that the idea may backfire later, or it is against protocol, or if he is waiting for you to offer a better price, he may just tell you so.

Then again, that may not be the real reason.

Type 2: The reason which the person cannot disclose to you

Certain causes are pretty complicated to figure out for a negotiator because they won’t come out upfront – If the individual does not like you for some reason, if he has been tipped off by someone he trusts or if the person is unsure or confused, he may try not to reveal it. It might, however, show up in other ways if you know how to read expressions and body language.

Type 3: Reasons which the person does not even admit to himself

There is a third kind – ones most difficult to decipher – because even the person concerned consciously does not know it. We simply do not know what we want!

A girl might reject a boy’s love because he does not look right or because he did not shower her with empty compliments that she usually receives. Both of these will be difficult for the girl to admit to herself, so she might justify saying: “He is not the one for me.”

A professional may reject a proposal due to controversial socio-political views. For example – The person may not prefer to have an African American leading his team – but since that would not sound politically correct, he tells himself – “This is just not the right kind of team I want.” or “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Such things will not become quickly apparent. To understand these reasons, you need to go deeper into the person’s psyche, which may not be practical at that point of time.

The delusion of Reason: Examples

 If I asked you – “Why do you pray to God?” you will say – “Because God wants us to.” Or “Because it is the right thing to do.” I am not saying that would be wrong, but let’s face it. Most people pray much more when in distress, when they need something as opposed to when they don’t. What you are explaining to yourself may be the more ethically correct option. You may be scared more than you are pious.

A beautiful lady is trying to convince his husband to buy her a diamond necklace. She asks him whether she looks good in it or not, and he says No. He might have taken a peek at the price tag, and while he loves his wife a lot, he is just not prepared to spend twenty grand on a necklace right now. He might not even do that consciously; his mind may trick him into believing that the necklace does not look that good, as in – it just isn’t worth that much! Why do we say no when we mean something else? Difficult to tell.

I was negotiating a deal with a real estate agent. I said that I was not happy with the apartment. No, it wasn’t a bargaining tactic, that is what I honestly believed at that time – that the apartment was not that good. Well, the agent did not take No for an answer. What did he do? He simply came up with a much better price. This time, I agreed. Apparently what I did not like in the first place was the price!

You may be in an interview room trying to get a job, trying to woo a person into marriage, or may be trying to crack a business deal; concepts are similar. You may be dealing with a salesperson and trying to get a bargain price, or you may be that salesperson himself trying to push your client into going for the purchase – no matter where you are and who you are dealing with, that rejection can come forth at any moment.

It may not be possible for you to determine the real reason behind it.

Action Plan – Turn a No into a Yes

You have answered the “Why do we say no” question, but you still have a rejection to deal with! What do you do? 

First of all, NO is good! We can work with NO. With the right attitude, you have a good chance of turning a NO into a YES. Remember that decision-making is an emotional process. NO is good because it is a definite answer leading you to move your conversation forward and tap emotional resources. The biggest mistake people do at this point – being persistent. Do not nag. Be creative. Here is an example of something which you must never do!!

“I cannot give you ten grand right now.”

“Okay, what about five grand?”


“Okay, three grand at least?”

“Can you please leave now?”

Now there are many ways to turn tables towards you, and I shall discuss them eventually in a series of posts. Here are few of the basic steps.

  1. Try your best to figure out the real reason. Ask, or read the body language. Be patient. To break into a person’s psyche, you need to make him trust you. As I discussed earlier, say less, listen more. Ask thoughtful questions:

“Why do think the design won’t look right?” or 

“Okay, I understand that you do not like the floral decor along the passageway. What do you want instead?”

2. Justify the options from the other person’s point of view. Talk in a way which makes the person feel understood. Make a genuine friend instead of a rival. An individual who trusts you is much more likely to open the heart out.

“Perhaps you rejected our quote based on the deadline we have mentioned. If you want, we can talk about that.”

3. When you do realise the reason, never undermine it. Give it importance and imagine a workaround.

“Okay, I see that you find our prices high. Now, allow me to show you a comparison chart between our prices against the rest of the market. I don’t think you will find anything better at this price.”

“I know darling, you don’t want to go to this party, but it’s important to me. I would do the same for you,”

4. If that does not work, leave the discussion open on a positive note. End with something like:

“Let us not take a call right now. Please think about it one more time. We shall be back here again.”

“I did not want a YES or NO from you. I just wanted to say that I love you. Just think about it, okay?”

Very often TIME is a very powerful tool to turn a No into a YES. I have used it with many people getting great results.

Given time many things settle down, and logic prevails. The person who does not like you may try and see things in a professional manner and agree that yours is the best way to go. If the other person was influenced by someone else, he might shake out of it. If he was confused, he might start seeing the merits of your case. If he is shy to talk about his budget constraints he will realize that you are ready to negotiate further; he may offer you a price which he feels is appropriate.

Do not take No for an answer. Instead, give it time. You might get your second chance!

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