Getting To No – Telling clients and co-workers to sod off without offending them.

As a crossdresser working in a busy advertising agency, I am often asked to involve myself on projects that are a complete waste of time, and serve no purpose whatsoever. With this in mind I’ve been forced to come up with ways to extract myself from situations in the workplace with apparently plausible refusals, without actually appearing to refuse at all.

This is a short but valuable guide for people who need to say ‘no’, without giving offence. In it I’ll deal with a few suggestions, some of which will save your corporate career. There’s a few things here that may have a practical application in the personal realm, but this is more aimed at the professional workplace. I know you’ll find it to be of help.


Getting To No — Telling clients and co-workers to sod off without offending them.

Since the original publication of this paper, ‘Getting To No’ has helped several people learn a better way to negotiate and manage difficult workplace situations. One of the primary texts in use with several terrorist groups, and the Republican Party, the method described deals with all levels of conflict resolution.

It’s true. The advertising industry will teach you one thing above all else. We are surrounded by idiots, and they really are out to get us. But, it’s ok. I’m here to help.

Unlike many, I will cut straight to the chase. You are in a busy workplace, and there are people out there ready to ambush you with time wasting exercises, trying to offload their problems on to you, and trying to inveigle you into projects that are doomed to fail. Yet, you’re expected to be positive and can’t be seen to be obstructionist. Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.

I come at this from having worked in advertising on three continents. I’ve always managed to stay marginally ahead of the human resources director, and been promoted out of failing departments or accounts just fast enough for people not to realise how bad I am at my job. I have literally been promoted to a post in which I’ve had to oversee the liquation of a department so horribly incompetent it should never have existed. Indeed, it never would have existed but for the fact that I created it in the first place. I have demonstrated vast knowledge of data mining, by staying three pages ahead of the director above me in ‘the idiots guide to datamining’. I could tell you other stories, but you get the general idea.

I will list a few techniques, some useful phrases and one or two ideas to kill a project dead. I hope you’ll value these, and encourage you to share them widely. To be a crossdresser and thrive in the world of advertising, skiing all over North America (for a major ski company), and addressing numerous conferences on behalf of major clients, and not to have been hurled off a ski lift or thrown from a hotel balcony after witnessing some of the insanity of the world of advertising continually surprises me.

Partly my survival can be attributed to my ability to let the situation speak for me. It should be remembered that, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then silence is worth a thousand more. When a particularly unkind director made a joke about Germans in the second war — which I acknowledge would be less likely in the workplace today — during a creative meeting, quietly rising to my feet, sniffing loudly and dabbing one eye with a Kleenex and walking from the room resulted in a hushed silence.

A well placed word or two afterwards and the impression was gained that something unspeakable had happened to my grandfather in the war, at the hands of German soldiers. The word was that he was with ‘The Underground’. It was a matter that I was apparently deeply affected by, being both mysterious and horrendous in nature. This was not entirely untrue. He did work on the underground trains in London. However, the matter was evidently of such deep and sensitive nature that it merited a hand written note of apology from the Creative Director, a small increase in salary and was elevated to a title which at least implied that I was a manager. In time the implication led to further promotion and a path into management.

Here are a few words that, when placed at the right moment can change a mundane career into one on an upward trajectory. The manner in which they are delivered is, of course important. My best suggestion is to mix and match some of the following methods. The hushed whisper, the shaken head and slowly spoken delivery, the look into the far horizon with a puzzled frown, and of course, the closed eyes and hand to the forehead.

Here’s your starter list:

  • · “How dare you mention that. Here!”
  • · “I’m sorry, but I find that offensive.”
  • · “I can’t speak.”
  • · “The last time I heard those words… no!”
  • · “Do you understand what you just said?”

The practiced slow walk to the boardroom doorway, with the practiced stare at the floor and halting breath. You may wish to practice this when buying your next Starbucks coffee. This method does depend on your ability to get to the door and close it, before anyone has realised quite what has happened. A swift exit to the pub or a nearby bar where you can’t be found is strongly recommended for the following hour. When you return to the office you’re sure to be asked ‘how you are’. This gives you the opportunity to deliver the coup de grace.

“I’m recovering,” said very calmly with a forced smile.

Part 2 — You’ve been handed a dead duck and you need to deflect it.

When the smell of Duck A L’orange fades and you realise the carcass before you is actually road kill, you need a way to kill a project quickly. These simple techniques will help you do the decent thing and bog the project down forever.

Most projects in advertising agencies run on strict deadlines, often dictated by media and publication dates. This offers the priceless opportunity to use one of the key business phrases that should be taught in every advanced business class. These words should be engraved on the heart of all who read this text.

“It’s far too early to discuss details like deadlines — after all — fools rush in, and we wouldn’t want that would we?”

Championing caution, for the sake of the agency and the client, has given many a clod the impression that I’m the responsible voice in the room. It’s also killed off a host of dead duck ideas that might have sunk a career.

Like all good methods, we have a back up plan in our back pocket should some conscientious executive try to push on through. Always committed to the written record, and email note praising the energy and bravery of the champion of the project is a good idea.

“I can’t help thinking you very brave to advance this project. It’s always inspiring to see someone embrace risk and liability for the sake of corporate or tactical advantage. I wish I had your courage!”

Other phrases you may wish to have close at hand are:

· “It’s a little premature to commit to such a brave course of action.”

· “We’re examining a range of options at present.”

· “We should really consider this after we overcome some of the scheduling conflicts that have arisen.”

· “I’ve no doubt I’ll find the time to give this the attention it really deserves, eventually.”

· “The legal liabilities are really quite intriguing, but I’m sure you’re aware of that, in light of recent developments.”

· “I feel I should personally champion this, however there are family issues that I feel bound to prioritise at present.”

· “I have to attend a conference at the Seminary. Perhaps after that my path will be clearer.”

· “Have you included the aboriginal perspective? We have a report on that, correct?”

· “Does this really reflect our values? Really?”

· “We should have IT get a look at this. I think they may have something to contribute!”

Any of the above replies will send the person handing you this project running for cover and wondering what it is that they missed. And sagely nodding as they retreat will convey both wisdom and that your experience should be respected. Adding quietly that we should “keep this between ourselves until after your review is over” is often helpful. This is doubly helpful if the person has recently had a review, implying that a corporate restructuring is covertly taking place.

Encouraging co-workers.

There are always phrases that can be dropped into water cooler conversations that can helpfully shake your co-workers. One of the most effective techniques is to wait until there’s a meeting taking place behind closed doors in the office, and by the coffee machine or water cooler, just nod to the poor sap that’s trying to hand off their project, and say knowingly, “Don’t worry. I’ve got your back.”

This sows seeds of confusion, which for the inept and beleaguered are sure to level the playing field. Disrupting everyone in the company, while appearing to be the only person who knows what’s going on, is a laudable and lofty goal. A truly skilled executive will take a task that is at it’s core very simple and help it become so horrendously complex that it appears that they are the only person in the company that has any understanding of it. Entire careers have been built on this skill. Don’t take my word for it. Ask anyone working in local government. Digging a hole can be made the subject of licensing, policy review, legal liability, labor disputes, aboriginal rights demonstration and of course humanitarian law. These are the playthings of the skilled practitioner of “Getting To No”.

With tis in mind it’s worth remembering that golden adage which should be written down and pasted to your fridge (preferably at home):

“There are no problems — only opportunities to complicate and blame others.”

In the attempt to bring the wheels of progress to a halt before it lands on you desk, you may also wish to ask if human resources are in the loop. Obviously the project is going to need to be done right, which will mean the proper training. Assisting by proposing a suitable training course for key staff, in another time zone, and preferably in another language seems only reasonable. After all, “We wouldn’t want to go in unprepared, would we?”

As one proponent of the practice of ‘Getting To No’ recently commented to me:

“I love the system. My career has really taken flight since adopting the values of ‘Getting To No.’ Most of all, I’ve learned never to be afraid to play the gender card. If I don’t the other man will!”

I thought he phrased that rather well.

Part 3. Working with clients.

In any business relationship someone is going to come along and ask you ‘Is that your best price?” My very good friend Sylvester is often asked this in his auto shop business. Remembering my advice about sowing the seeds of confusion, one should then immediately increase the price. An example is below.

Client: “$2,000? Is that your best price?”

You: “Let’s call it $2,150.”

Client: “But you just said it was $2000.”

You: “It went up.”

Client: “You can’t do that!”

You: “$2250”

Client: “What?”

You: “$2300.”

Client: “Stop! I’ll take it!”

You: “Do you want to buy this book about negotiation? It’s called ‘Getting To No.’”

I think you get the general idea. It’s surprising how well this actually works. You have to keep your nerve and be prepared to loose a client, but if you’re the only game in town it saves a lot of time.

Inevitably you’re going to have to call clients at times. A knowledge of good manners and etiquette will help you in this regard. For instance, knowing that calling a client after 9.00 pm at night is disrespectful and rude is essential. You should place your call at around 9.50 pm.

Due to the massive popularity of ‘Getting To No’, there’s a chance you’re going to be faced with someone who is familiar with this method and sends you directly to voice mail. When that happens you risk them calling you back at 11.30 pm. However, you can circumvent this quite easily by leaving a short message implying that you are just leaving the office and will be turning your phone off while paying a visit an ailing close relative at the hospice. Your phone should then be left off until mid morning the following day, or redirected to the company switchboard.

As a rule of thumb, when working with clients if they are very precise it’s wise to appear relaxed and vague. If they are very relaxed and vague about things like prices, it’s only polite to do every calculation to 4 decimal places. Especially currencies.

Part 4. The vocabulary of ‘Getting To No’.

In most cases the wisest path, when asked to do something you don’t wish to do, is to just say ‘no’. What many amateurs then do is try to either explain or justify their position with some follow up sentence. Explaining and justifying generally merely confuses others. They don’t realise that the answer was ‘no’, and so think there’s some logical rational which will change it to ‘yes’.

There isn’t.

Some people don’t want to hear the word ‘no’. With this in mind I’ve prepared a list of useful phrases for you to toss out instead.

“Well, I agree with you, up to a point.”

“There are good points and bad points.”

“It’s not the right time.”

“It’s not the right time.”

“Perhaps at some time in the future.”

“I’m leaning toward a positive solution, but from a negative perspective.”

“It’s a great idea! I’ll put it in the ‘Great Ideas” queue.”

“I’m not going to dismiss the idea entirely. Just temporarily.”

“We need further consultations.”

“There are broader implications that may preclude my involvement.”

“I’ll get to it, in the fullness of time.”

“I’m sure it will become a priority, at the appropriate juncture.”

“It’s a brave and radical idea. Unfortunately, neither ‘brave’ nor ‘radical’ are priorities at this time.”

It will not be beyond your imagination to realise that with the right set of responses cycled over a period almost any idea can be held up, bogged down and generally tied in knots for periods of years. And every year is made up of 8760 billable hours.

Armed with this simple document you are now prepared to elevate your career in advertising, or many other businesses. And after all, who wouldn’t take advice from a crossdressing ad executive?

Fiona Dobson

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