IT Service Negotiation: Six Steps to Diffuse Awkward Situations

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Image of 'happy face' stickers signifying happy end-users in IT service negotiations.

When you work in an IT service capacity, it's not easy to "say no" to a customer request that comes your way. Customer service is all about helping people and solving problems, and that implies an acceptance of any and all requests.  But it doesn't always work that way.  Read on to learn when and how to "say no".

Getting Started: Balancing IT Service Interests

Internal IT services are unique within the world of customer service. Obviously, one primary role of the internal IT organization is to serve and support end-users, and that involves solving problems and filling needs as requested.  But IT services and operations are driven by more than individual end-user demands, they are also subject to company interests, professional ethics and technology best practices.   (Also Read:  Customer Service Principles for IT Management)

For example, systems access would probably be a lot easier for end-users without user-ids and passwords, but doing away with systems security would certainly not be in the best interests of the company. At times, company interests may very well take precedence over end-user interests, and you may need to say "no", even if you are technically capable of fulfilling the request. That said, standards and practices are only one element to consider when faced with a potentially sensitive user request - there are also practical considerations:

  • Do you have the time to complete the request?
  • Do you have the resources to complete the request?
  • Do you have the skills to complete the request?
  • Do you have the authority to agree?
  • What are your prior commitments, and does this request present any conflicts?
  • Is the request within the scope of your responsibilities?

Whenever service requests cannot be fulfilled, action must be taken to minimize the fallout and protect organizational interests.  Here are few suggestions and techniques.....

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How to Say No and Minimize Potential Fallout

#1 Don't Alienate, Collaborate

As the questions listed above indicate, at times, despite the natural inclination or actual ability to be helpful, you may need to say "no". When you must refuse an end-user request, you will want to do so without an outright rejection - that serves no purpose and will probably only alienate your end-user, causing them to bypass you in the future or just go over your head. So the trick here is to say "no" without actually using the word.

#2 Consider the Associated Politics

While it may be unpleasant, or even unfair at times, internal politics are a reality in any business, large or small. Before you respond to any service or project request in the negative, you need to consider "who is asking?". Sometimes, you may not be able to "say no", even if "no" is the best response. On the other hand, an unqualified "yes" in these circumstances can also be dangerous, particularly if you really will not be able to fulfill the request. In these circumstances, even if you cannot say "no", the ensuing analysis will still be worthwhile. If you are fully informed and prepared, you can work towards compromise, and seek guidance from your own management. In addition, in consideration of scheduling and resource limitations, every "yes" offered to one request, may very well generate a "no" to another, so you need to be prepared to justify and reschedule your other commitments.

#3 Learn to Listen

If you are to respond properly, it is important that you fully understand the nature and the specifics of the request - does it relate to a service problem, a project already underway, a new project or some other issue? If you refuse the request without a full understanding of its elements and origins, you risk embarrassment at a later date.

#4 Evaluate all the Circumstances

Evaluate the request. Using the questions listed above, you will need to evaluate the request in order to determine whether acceptance and completion is possible (or even mandatory), or to determine whether rejection is in order. Your analysis will need to consider company policies, current priorities, available time, resources, skills and other related issues.

#5 Develop an Action Plan

Based on the nature of the request and your related analysis, you will need to develop an appropriate response, which likely will fit into one of four categories:

- A "yes" (You commit to the request).
- A "no" with an explanation* (I can't complete this request and here's why).
- A compromise (Some alternative to the initial request).
- A referral (The name of an alternative resource for assistance or escalation).

Take Note: If you must refuse the request, you should be ready to justify that decision. In this way, the reasons for the rejection take priority over the rejection itself, placing all parties on equal footing should the rejection be disputed. If you were to just say "no" without an explanation, it would be very difficult to justify and defend your position. In addition, your job is to serve the business and your end-users, if you refuse requests without viable reasons, you will likely not be in your position for very long.

#6 Get Ready to Negotiate and Compromise

Once you have developed your responsive action plan, the hardest part begins .... you have to let your end-user know. How you choose to communicate your response will depend on several factors: the nature of the request (formal or informal), the person making the request, your relationship with that person, the sensitivity of your response, and the culture of your company. You may choose to make your response in person, on the phone, via e-mail, on paper, or some combination thereof. Whatever mechanism you use, you should always follow a few basic techniques:

  • Don't be defensive or overly apologetic. Simply state that you regret that you cannot complete the request at this time, and offer your explanation. (i.e. scheduling conflicts, conflicts with internal policies, conflicts with other plans or projects, etc.) Emphasize the reason, not the rejection.
  • Try and be as positive as possible, focusing on any compromises or alternatives that you can offer.
  • Always leave yourself an opening for a graceful exit. Your end-user may offer an alternative of their own, point out an error in your analysis, or they may react negatively to your response. If necessary, leave yourself a way to "re-think" the matter so that you can seek assistance from your own management before things get ugly. You can accomplish this with a simple statement to the effect of "if you have any questions, or feel that I have misunderstood your request in any way, please let me know". Let the end-user know that you have not shut the door in his/her face.


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  • The I.T. Service Strategy Toolkit is an easy, engaging online course, containing over 50+ education components, teaching you how to use the multi-stage 'Service Strategy Process' to organize the I.T. service function and deliver value-added I.T. services.

  • Topics covered include developing the IT mission, organizing the IT service department, planning IT management policies, managing the IT/end-user service relationship, performing the IT service review, and more.

  • Techniques covered include 'Define, Align and Approve', the 'Manage by Process Framework', the IT/End User Partnership, Proactive Problem Management and more.

  • Download the tools and templates to produce the I.T. Vision Statement and multiple Service Review deliverables.

  • Build and improve strategic planning skills, as you learn time-saving techniques to become a more productive IT manager or service professional.

  • Course enrollment provides lifetime access to all components, with all future updates and additions included.

Source: Unless noted otherwise, all content is created by and/or for

About Us

Right Track Logo staff writers have experience working for some of the largest corporations, in various positions including marketing, systems engineering, help desk support, web and application development, and IT management. is part of Right Track Associates, proprietors and publishers of multiple web sites including, Fast Track Manage, HOA Board List and more. We started in 2001 and have continued to grow our web site portfolio, Toolkit products, and related data services. To learn more, visit us at Right Track Associates.

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