When They Say No, Reduce The Ask by Half


In an earlier lesson (1 or 2 back from this one) I told how to keep reducing the ask by 1/2 until they say yes.  I was indirect there. So, let me me explicit here..

In general, teaching in a formal classroom is overrated. You are set up as the authority, and doing most of the talking. Most good learning comes from direct experience.

Most good classes have loads of experiential learning.

So: Why not go all the way, and just stop teaching? Why not just put them on an experience? This is an extremely fast way for you to create results fast. But wait: first they have to be willing.

Once they are, and they try whatever it is you are suggesting, the skip the 1st 20 steps…and go directly to learning… and integration. Voila.

This technique works with any Agile coaching audience: teams, executives, stakeholders.

When you use it, you are leveraging the following powerful concepts:

  • Invitation
  • Opt-in participation
  • Experimentation
  • Direct experiential learning

Invitation is extremely powerful. When you invite a team or a group to try something, they must first all agree as a group to say “yes” to the experiment. Or “no”. Or “maybe.”

This process in itself tends to tip them into a group-learning, agile orientation.

Even if they say “no” they are saying that together. That’s membership. That’s control. That’s progress.

And you got to watch them make that decision. That information about how the group is currently making decisions is very useful for you as the coach who is helping them out.

Here are the steps:

  • Describe an experiment that is to be inspected later, an experiment that is completely temporary in nature, with “low” or “no” long-term commitment. For example, with executive team, ask the team to try doing a daily standup meeting.
  • Define the exact time-duration of the experiment. Be specific. So for example you might suggest “I wonder if you all might be willing to try doing a daily standup meeting, as an experiment to be inspected, for ONE MONTH or FOUR WEEKS. Do you think you might be willing to do that?”
  • Watch. Observe.
  • If they say “no” reduce the ask by about half. Ask again, and define the exact duration of the proposed experiment as TWO WEEKS instead of ONE MONTH.
  • If they say no AGAIN, repeat that last step until they say ‘yes’ or just refuse to do any experiments at all. (they usually will agree to try something.)


This is a very simple way to help them learn stuff really, really fast.


  • By the time we are done talking about, we could have done 2,3,4 experiments. They learn this is actually true, and learn to stop arguing….and just TRY THINGS…and inspect the experience
  • By inviting them, you get to continuously gauge their level of willingness to try new stuff
  • They are choosing and therefore “in charge of” what happens next
  • They are trying something that has no big commitment attached
  • They are getting direct experience (no lectures from you)
  • Big surprises often ensue (via direct experience) leading to “a convincing learning experience” without any “logical arguing” or convincing required.
  • You are not arguing “for or against” anything. Instead you are testing their willingness to try this or that, to learn something.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • Example 1: You are coaching a team and facilitating some estimating using planning poker. Invite them to time-box each item to 4 minutes. If they say no, ask them to do the 4-minute time-box for the next 6 items. If they opt-out ask them to do 3 items this way. If they say no ask them to do JUST ONE ITEM this way, and then inspect the results.
  • Example 2: You are coaching a team and you want to show them how to make their meetings better. Suggest that “for the next 4 meetings, how about we start them at 10-past the hour instead of the top of the hour, to allow people to commute from their last meeting, etc?” If they refuse, ask them to try this for just 2 meetings. If they say no again, try to get them to give it a try for just ONE meeting, and then inspect the results.


So: put them on lots of invitations, and when they say ‘no’, reduce the ask by half. Keep inviting. Keep reducing the ask.

Make invitation an essential part of your Agile coaching style. To make your invitations easy to accept, make them very-low-commitment. The best way to do this is to “not ask for a lot.”

If they say “no”, then reduce the commitment by 50%….. and ask again.


WARNING: This technique may severely reduce the number of coaching days needed to get lasting change.


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