As a sales person, I generally appreciate a good sell. When I’ve bought cars or other major purchases, I am entertained by selling techniques and tactics. When it comes to selling a product or service or raising money for a cause, overcoming objections is a key skill
However, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, I sometimes encounter guys who can’t hear the word “no.” These dudes are straight up scary, especially now that I’m not a less secure 20-something. Last night, on a business trip to Kansas City, I was reminded how quickly a fun night can turn into a coercive, predatory experience.
If you understand how these guys operate, you can navigate their tactics and get away unscathed. Typically, they are just using Sales 101 in completely inappropriate ways – and with the intention of “scoring” a person, or sex, not a sale or gift.
Here’s what happened. I’m on a work trip in Kansas City, and spent a long day with our board chair talking about the promise and impact of our work. It was exhilarating, and exhausting. I decide to decompress by having dinner at a local restaurant, rather than just collapsing into bed with room service.
As a female business traveler alone in a restaurant, I don’t mind friendly conversations with strangers. In fact, I often enjoy them as a chance to unwind and relax. When “Tony” entered the bar, I welcomed his friendly hello and the quick banter back and forth about whether the seat next to mine was available. His Long Island accent gave away the fact that he was also visiting, so we struck up a conversation about sports teams, our work travel, etc. We had some things in common. We’re bridge and tunnel people. We raise money for a living. We can both handle conversations with strangers. We’re both married with kids. In my mind, we’re just having a conversation to pass the time.
His friend joined him shortly after we started chatting. Soon, they each make a couple of subtle, and then more overt sexual references. First, a joke about how Anthony told his friend he’d be sitting next to the prettiest girl in the bar. Then, a “funny” story about how his friend had engaged with prostitutes on a bachelor party trip to Las Vegas. He throws out a couple of compliments and insinuations like, “Oh, you’ll be fun to hang out with us tonight.” Needless to say, I’m not digging this guy and am looking for an exit.
I am aware of my desire to “be polite.” I finish my glass of wine. He offers to buy me another one.
I say, “No thank you, I’m all set.”
They are getting ready to go to their table for dinner.
“Join us for dinner.”
“No thanks, I already ate.”
“Come on. Have another drink with us.”
“No thanks, I’m going to head back and call it a night.”
“Oh, really. Come on. You don’t have to have another drink. You can just drink water.”
Now I’m annoyed. I’ve said no twice.
So I made a joke, “I can see why you are a good salesperson.”
“I’m not trying to convince you of anything. Just stay.”
I’m not a dummy. This is literally Sales 101. “Oh, so the ‘I’m not trying to sell you anything technique.’ Nicely done.”
This pissed him off. His whole demeanor changed. I had called him out, and put him in his place. So his next move is to insult me.
“Oh, I see. You’re no fun.”
This tactic may have worked with a less confident, more approval seeking version of myself. But dude, FUCK YOU. Now you insult me? Yet, I stay calm.
“I’m plenty fun, but I’m calling it a night. Have a great evening. It was nice to meet you.”
The guy then proceeds to write his phone number down and give it me, while saying, “I know you aren’t going to call me.” You are right. I won’t.
But the level of pressure to stay, drink and be friendly when I clearly wanted to leave was over the top. And his anger at me saying no to him was frankly, kind of scary. Part of me wishes I had told him off. Part of me wishes I had caused a scene. Part of me wonders if I should have warned the bartender about him. Because had a been a younger, less secure person, I might have bought his whole sales pitch, hook, line and sinker – and ended up in a bad situation.
Here’s what I have to say to my 25-year old, less secure self:
- You don’t have to be polite.
- If someone gets mad when you say no, RUN.
- Recognize tactics of coercion and call them out.
- Only jerks try to convince you to hang out with them.
And to guys like Tony out there: No means no. Period. End of sentence.
Your games won’t work on me.