March 30, 2007

The Power of the Positive No

William Ury is the co-author of the well-known book Getting to YES. In this book he explains how he has come to realize that getting to yes is only half of the picture. Ury even says that "whether and how we say No determines the very quality of our lives." The reason is that word No is indispensible whenever you have to stand up for what really matters to you.Certain situations can create tension between an issue which is important to you and a relationship that is also important to you. This tension can make us fall into the three-A trap of Accomodation (saying yes when we mean No), Attacking (responding forcefully) and Avoiding (doing nothing at all). Ury presents the positive No as a way out. In short this means:
  1. Yes! -> positively and concretely describing your core interests and values
  2. No. -> explicitely link your no to this YES!
  3. Yes? -> suggest another positive outcome or agreement to the other person.
Ury goes into much detail about how to prepare, deliver, and follow through your positive No. His style of wrting is crystal clear and his examples are interesting. Some examples are probably very recognizable to many readers (like: how do you say No to someone who wants to borrow money from you when you don't want to). Other examples are much grander (how to negotiate in an inter-ethnic conflict) and also interesting. The core idea of this book is very simple and very important. I was perhaps most interested to read Chapter 2 which explain the importance of a Plan B, which is your backup for your prefered outcome. I'll end this review with a quote by the great No-sayer Mahatma Gandhi (which is mentiond on page 7): "A `No' uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a `Yes' merely uttered to please or what is worse, to avoid trouble.


  1. I really enjoyed reading the book - and the way it was written, and the lessons that you learn from it.

    I would only add one thing to your summary: Ury underlines the importance of following through with the other to understand your NO, accept it, and still save face. In the end, you still want to preserve the relationship with the other party, as you are saying NO in that specific situation.

    It's definitely a MUST-READ book for anybody!


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