The Power of a Positive No Book Summary - The Power of a Positive No Book explained in key points
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The Power of a Positive No summary

William Ury

How to Say No and Still Get to Yes

4.4 (163 ratings)
22 mins
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    The Power of a Positive No
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    To uncover your underlying yes, you must discover the reason you’re saying no in the first place.

    Saying no can be difficult, can’t it? Of course, but it's especially hard when you're addicted to something like alcohol or drugs. Despite knowing that you should say no, it can take years to find the strength to refuse that tantalizing drink.


    After many years of addiction, one alcoholic was finally able to quit only when he became a grandfather and desired to be a positive force in his grandchild's life. This reveals something powerful: that a Positive No doesn't stem from being against something, but rather, it's motivated by a deeper yes.

    The key message here is: To uncover your underlying yes, you must discover the reason you’re saying no in the first place.

    Most people tend to say no reactively, either as an accommodation, an attack, or out of avoidance – what the author calls “the three-A trap.” These types of nos stem from fear, guilt, or anger. But for your no to be positive, it must come from somewhere more proactive, forward-looking, and purposeful. So next time you’re about to say no, stop and ask yourself what you really want, what’s most important to you, and why.

    While no is a clear statement of what you don’t want, it is ultimately motivated by the things you do want. Say your friend is over and asks to light up a cigarette in your living room. It’s likely you don’t want someone to smoke in your home, because you don’t like the smell and you also care about air quality. The same holds true for all situations you want to say no to. So next time you have to say it, ask yourself, what are you trying to create, protect, or change? Reflect on your interests, needs, and values to settle on what really matters to you.

    Having done so, you arrive at your yes – that is, the intention that underlies your interests. Remember: a powerful intention should be positive – it should be for rather than against. Just like the alcoholic who found his true desire was to be alive and well for his grandchild, you need to pinpoint what truly matters to you. Because finding your yes gives you strength to carry through with your no. Now with this sense of purpose in place, the next step is to empower your no.

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    What is The Power of a Positive No about?

    In The Power of a Positive No (2007), William Ury dives deep into the power of no. Since no is easily one of the strongest words in any language, people tend to misuse it or are afraid of using it for fear of upsetting someone. The Power of a Positive No tells you exactly how to stand up for yourself and deliver a firm refusal while resisting aggression and maintaining key relationships.

    Best quote from The Power of a Positive No

    The power of your no comes directly from the power of your yes.

    —William Ury
    example alt text

    Who should read The Power of a Positive No?

    • Chronic people-pleasers and polite folks who struggle to assert themselves
    • Young professionals learning how to navigate workplace disputes
    • Anyone feeling powerless when it comes to establishing firm boundaries

    About the Author

    William Ury is a cofounder of the Harvard Program on Negotiation, he’s an academic and best-selling author of Getting to Yes and multiple other books. Having worked as a mediator in the Middle East and the Soviet Union, Ury also teamed up with President Jimmy Carter to start the International Negotiation Network.

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