September 5, 2010 by Thriving Now

How to NO

by Whitney Hess, via A List Apart: Articles: No One Nos: Learning to Say No to Bad Ideas, with comments about the emotional blocks to saying NO by

Last October while on the phone with Harry Max—a pioneer in the field of Information Architecture, co-founder of Virtual Vineyards/, (the first secure shopping system on the web), and now an executive coach—I complained about having way too much on my plate and desperately needing someone to give me a break.

He made me realize that it was actually I who was to blame, taking on more than I could handle by not protecting my time, and recommended that I read The Power of a Positive No by William Ury.

The book changed my life.

Ury proposes a methodology for saying no “while getting to Yes.” He argues that our desire to say no is not to be contradictory, but rather to stand up for a deeper yes—what we believe to be true, right, virtuous, and necessary. And that instead of making our defense a negative one, we can frame it in a positive light that is more likely to lead to a favorable outcome.

The following may sound really corny, but bear with me. It has completely transformed how I handle conflict and decision-making.

Yes! No. Yes?

The structure of a positive no is a “Yes! No. Yes? statement.” In Ury’s words: The first Yes! expresses your interest; the No asserts your power; and the second Yes? furthers your relationship. For example, you might say “I, too, want prospective customers to see our company as current and approachable, but I don’t feel that a dozen social media badges at the top of the page will help us achieve that. What if we came up with a few alternative approaches and chose the most effective one together?”

He advocates not for just delivering your no in that manner, but also preparing for it and following through on it in the same way. Without a plan and without continued action, your assertion is a lot less believable—and a lot less likely to work.

Some of the most powerful takeaways from the book just might help you when it comes time for you to fight the good fight.

  • Never say no immediately. Don’t react in the heat of the moment, or you might say something you don’t really mean. Things are rarely as urgent as we believe them to be, so take a step back, go to your quiet place, and really think through the issue at hand. Not only will your argument be clearer once you’ve had a chance to rehearse it, but it’s more likely the other will be ready to hear it.
  • Be specific in describing your interests. When saying no, it’s better to describe what you’re for rather than what you’re against. Instead of just maintaining a position, help the other person to understand why you are concerned and what you’re trying to protect. You may just find that you share the same goal, and can work together to find the right solution.
  • Have a plan B. There will be times that other people just won’t take your no for an answer. So you’re going to need a plan B as a last resort. Are you going to go over the person’s head? Are you going to prevent the project from moving forward? Are you going to quit? By exploring what you’re truly prepared to do ahead of time, you’ll have considerably more confidence to stand your ground and you won’t be afraid of what might come next.
  • Express your need without neediness. Desperation is never attractive and won’t get you anywhere. Present your case with conviction and matter-of-factness. Does your assertion cease to be true if the other person refuses to agree? No. So don’t act like it does. Needing the other to comply makes you look unsure and dependent, diminishing yourself and putting them in a position of power.
  • Present the facts and let the other draw their own conclusions. I’d venture to guess that most of the time you’re working with people who are pretty smart, pretty logical, and pretty well-intentioned. Perhaps they just don’t have all of the information that you do. Instead of telling them what to think, it is more useful to provide the necessary facts on which they can base their own judgment. Sometimes allowing the other person to feel like the decision was partially their own will help you get your way.
  • The shorter it is, the stronger it is. Pascal famously said, “I wrote you a long letter because I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” The longer the argument, the sloppier and less well-thought out it appears. You don’t need five reasons why something won’t work; just one good one will do.
  • As you close one door, open another. Don’t be a wet blanket. If you strongly believe that something shouldn’t be done, devise an alternative that the team can get behind. You aren’t helping anyone—let alone yourself—if you simply derail the project with your objections. Being a team player instead of a contrarian will help build trust and respect for your ideas.
  • Be polite. Ninety-nine times out of 100 we’re talking about issues of mild discomfort and dissatisfaction of our users, not life-or-death issues. There’s no reason to raise your voice, use inappropriate language, or cut anyone down. When you do, you prevent people from hearing the essence of what you’re trying to communicate. So keep your cool, be kind, and give your teammates and clients the respect they deserve. Just because you might understand something that they don’t doesn’t mean you’re a better person than they are.

Read the whole article at A List Apart: Articles: No One Nos: Learning to Say No to Bad Ideas.

Rick adds: Learning practical, healthy boundaries is crucial to living a thriving life. It’s good for you, and it honestly makes partnerships much stronger when others KNOW that you will not do something that isn’t a YES for you, nor do you expect them to.

Energetically, we all carry around experiences where our “deeper yes” was not honored. We were forced to do what they said because we were smaller or less free or not in the “power-over-others” authority position… rather than even consider offering the Yes! No. Yes? alternative described here. And sometimes when we offered our NO, a trauma ensued. (ouch!)

If you can easily take the suggestions in this article and put them into practice, excellent. If you cannot… if it doesn’t feel SAFE to say no or offer an alternative… look for where childhood and other negative life experiences may be trying to protect you. Those can be addressed using Tapping (EFT) in a way that is effective and freeing. If you’d like help, let us know at

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