Book Review: The Power of a Positive No

The Power of a Positive No is a book that aims to help readers say no positively by teaching readers how to sandwich their no in a yes.

William Ury, the author of this book, is an influential negotiator and mediator who is also the director of the Global Negotiation Project: a program under the Harvard Negotiation Project. In addition to this book, Ury also co-authored the popular book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In and wrote The Third Side, a guide on how anyone can keep conflicts from escalating into destructive and violent conflicts.

Like the Third Side, Positive Yes helps readers resolve conflicts positively by illustrating how to give a healthy no. This method allows a person to protect their interest and still preserve a strong relationship with the person receiving the no. The core concept explored throughout the book is learning how to “root your no in a yes.” Ury does a great job at explaining the steps and concepts with giving a positive no.

The way to your positive no is divided into three stages: figure out what are you saying yes to, find out what you are saying no to, and learn what to do to keep the relationship positive after you deliver your no (yes?). Following this 3-step formula, the book is divided into three stages. The first section of the book is about preparation.

The first thing Ury writes about is how to find out what you are saying yes to when you are are saying no. He gives a list of things you may be saying yes to in saying your no. Some examples are safety, survival, belonging and love, respect, freedom, and control over one’s fate. The next step in preparation is finding the confidence to express your no.

This chapter gives readers ideas about how to empower their no and frame their no in a way that does not accommodate, avoid, or attack the person receiving the no. The stage ends with preparing your way to yes, which surprisingly is about the basic principals of respect. The chapter has great stories and points like the following.

Basic respect begins with concrete behaviors, such as listening and acknowledgment.


Acknowledgment means treating the other … as a somebody, a fellow human being who exists and has needs and rights like anyone else.

This stage of the book concludes with ways to begin your positive no on a positive note. This includes ways to begin the conversation and how to frame the conversation as something the will benefit both people in the relationship.

The second stage is all about delivery. The first chapter of this stage tackles the idea of respectfully expressing your no. A variety of ways to express yourself, like using “We” “The” and “I” statements, are written about and some ways not to express yourself, like saying should, are also covered.

The second chapter is about asserting your no in the face of demands and inappropriate behaviors. Ury also writes about the benefits of saying no.

To survive and thrive, every human being and every organization needs to be able to say No to anything that threatens their safety, dignity, and integrity.

The emotional benefit of the “power of no” is further illustrated by an example of what it means when a child says no, “I exist! I have a right to my own feeling. I have right to my own opinions. I am me.” Ury surmises that learning how to say no is key to defining your identity, your individuality, or for a business – your brand. This stage of the book ends with how to propose your yes.

The third stage is about following through. It covers the second stage again in more detail with more ideals about how to manage the reactions of those affected by your no, tactics to sustaining your no and helping the other party understand your no, and how to cultivate a healthy relationship after everything has happened.

With that said.

There are times when the literature gets a bit repetitive and you may wonder if you’ve already read a section if you aren’t being attentive.

So, if you don’t mind repetition then I would highly suggest this book to anyone who has difficulty saying no or wants to improve how they say no. The book is solid and full of helpful tips that can be helpful to everyone and used with anyone.

Apologies 101: Dos and Don’ts

Two separate business [emphasis added for wtf effect] articles, published in March and April of this year, highlight the power of apology and what happens when people don’t apologize or apologize incorrectly (yes, there is a proper way to apologize). The articles focus on recent business and political scandals — like the AIG bonuses and President Obama’s recent apology to Europe for mistakes made by the previous presidential administration, and what the results were of the apology given: good apology (sincere apology) or not.

Not only do the articles show what can happen when we don’t apologize, they show the tremendous social and economical benefits of an apology done correctly.

Time writer Nancy Gibbs, gets it when it comes to why apologies don’t work sometimes. She writes this about public apologies in her article  “The Lost Art of Saying I’m Sorry.”

Public apologies now play like vaudeville: the extravagant remorse of disgraced televangelists, the snarled ‘I’m sorry’ of celebrities who exude regret at being caught rather than being wrong, the artful admissions of politicians who want credit for their confessions without any actual cost. We’ve learned to peel them apart with tweezers, find the insincerity and self-interest: If I caused any offense (you thin-skinned morons), I regret it. And so apologies are drained of their healing powers.

Beverly Engle author of the book, The Power of Apology writes, “If your apology does not come sincerely, it will not feel meaningful to the other person.” She concludes with, “apologies that are used as manipulations or mere social gestures” such as apologies given because someone else tells you it’s the right thing to do or because the other person is expecting it or because it will get you what you want, “will come across as empty and meaningless.”

Peter Bregman, in the his article “I Want You to Apologize“, writes that the number one thing a doctor could have done to prevent a medical lawsuit was issue an explanation and an apology to the person suing. In the article, Bergman also lists the top five reasons why people pursue malpractice suits. Each reason is a complaint that could’ve easily been solved with an empathetic acknowledgment of responsibility by the party involved. This article and the Times article both express that states with medical “apology laws” (laws that allow physicians to apologize when things go wrong without having to fear that their words will be used against them in court) have seen a decrease in medical malpractice lawsuits.

According to Engle, some of the benefits of apologizing are, immediate commencement of emotional healing by the person wronged, an immediate sense of relief from knowing the “wrongdoer” is no longer a personal threat, and the person wronged is now prevented from being stuck in the past and can begin to move past their anger. And for the “wrongdoer,” apologizing can help the doer rid themselves of “esteem-robbing self-reproach and guilt” and help the doer remain “emotionally connected” to friends and loved ones.

So now that we know the benefits, the question remains, “How does one apologize correctly?”

If you do an Internet search for the term, “how to apologize,” you’ll receive at least 13 million results. And some even have detailed instructions on how to apologize, when to stop apologizing, and how to apologize to women. Engler however, writes that there are three R’s to creating a meaningful apology.

A meaningful apology must have:

A statement of regret for having caused the hurt or damage

An acceptance of responsibility for the actions, and

A statement of willingness to remedy the situation

Engler further states that if an apology does not contain these elements, a person will feel something is missing and may end up feeling “shortchanged.” For more on the power of apology, read Engler’s article on the subject on the Psychology Today website.

And this concludes Apologies 101. So what say you? Ready to apologize now?