May 31, 2010

Positive No exercise

Here is a simple exercise with William Ury's positive no approach which you can try out with a colleague or a friend. Use the following steps as a guideline.

1. What is your 'no'? 
Think of a situation in which you cannot agree or don't want to agree with what some else (a customer, a colleague, a manager) asks of you. Describe this situation. What exactly is it you are saying 'no' to?

2. What is your underlying 'yes!'? 
What is your good reason for saying 'no'? Which (positively formulated) interests, needs, values, principles are your reason for saying 'no' in this situation?

3. What is your alternative suggestion? 
How can show that you are striving for a good relationship with the person and that you willing to do your best to achieve some kind of agreement? Which alternative suggestion can you make?

4. Practice this conversation with your friend. 
Instruct your partner how he or she should behave and respond while the two of you are practicing. Use solution focused techniques to respond to possible disappointment or anger on the part of your conversation partner. Keep your attitude clear and friendly, understanding yet determined.

5. Hold on to what worked for you
Reflect on the exercise and take a note of what worked well in this situation. How might you use this?


  1. This reminds me of something I heard in one of Marshall Rosenberg's workshops: "A No is a poor expression of an Yes. Say the need that keeps you from saying yes!" When the needs involved are understood, alternative strategies can be found. When the connection is there, the solution finds us.

  2. Coert,

    Could you give an example of how you've used this technique or seen it used? I've found that specific examples or stories really make the material real to me.

  3. Hi Rodney, thanks for asking. Here is a brief example:

  4. thx Peter, this sounds very similar indeed

  5. The example about Positieve No excercise you gave, indeed is helpfull. I also see possibilities (with some adaptations maybe) to use this technique with children. Do you know any interventions that are similar? Thank you!

  6. Hi Anita, thanks for your comment. This approach is very useful with children as well. it helps them to understand you are not trying to be negative or restrictive for its own sake but they understand why. Also they generally feel taken seriously.
    In general my experience is that solution-focused techniques and priciples work very well with children too. One example is the solution-focused directing technique which I co-developed with my collesgue Gwenda Schlundt Bodien (and which was firmly based on the work by Insoo Kim Berg and her colleagues. Here is bit more information: and

  7. Hi Coert,
    in the same vein, I read a while back "No" by J. Camp
    I found it very useful, clear and practical.
    Personally, I found it liberating: start with no.
    Then move on to what can be negotiated.
    It kind of gave me "permission" to say no, and conversation are much more productive if No comes first... which is kind of what Ury is saying now, after his previosu message of cooperation has been (I believe) widely misunderstood...


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