The Power of A Positive No
To quote one of my favorite lines by Ambrose Bierce: “Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
If you can learn how to say No skillfully and wisely, you can create what you want, protect what you value, and change what doesn’t work.
Stopping is allimportant because it interrupts your natural reaction, buys you time to think, and thus allows you to uncover your Yes. You may stop for a second, an hour, a day, or however long is required. What matters is to stop and get some perspective on the situation before proceeding with your No.
Acknowledgment does not mean agreeing with the other. It does not mean making any substantive concessions. It does not mean holding the other in high esteem. All it means is recognition. All human beings have a basic need to be recognized. Acknowledgment means treating the other not as a nobody but as a somebody, a fellow human being who exists and has needs and rights like anyone else. Acknowledgment is perhaps the essence of respect.
How do you, in a concrete fashion, deliver this initial Yes? There are three principal tools at your disposal: the-statements that set out the facts, I-statements that explain your interests and needs, and we-statements that invoke shared interests or standards.
No is the key word in defining your identity, your individuality, or, in organizational terms, your brand. If you cannot say No, you do not have a brand, for your brand is defined by what you say No to.
No is a selection principle that allows you to be who you are and not someone or something else. No gives you the individuality and definition that make this world a richer place.
One of the great arts in life is learning how to disagree without being disagreeable.
If I had to sum up the art of the Positive No in a metaphor, I would describe it as a shield—a shield of protection. A shield protects you and your Yes without hurting the other. A negative No, by contrast, is a sword—a sword of rejection. It attacks without concern for relationship.
Behavior has the advantage of being observable.
“Don’t shout at me,” tends to focus the other’s attention even more on the unwanted behavior and may unconsciously reinforce it, particularly if you are shouting back at them. It is more effective to say, quietly, “Please talk to me in a quiet tone.” Focus the other’s mind clearly on the positive action you want them to take.
In other words, don’t just tell the other to stop doing something you don’t want; ask them to start doing something you do want.
“I appreciate your thinking of me, but my current commitments will prevent me from serving. I look forward to being of help in more informal ways and I hope we’ll have other chances to work together.”
One of the greatest powers you have is the power to choose not to react.
Sympathizing, as nice as it sounds, may lead you to weaken and yield. You can empathize (which means showing understanding) without sympathizing (which means feeling the pain with them). Empathy is a form of respect.
The essence of your Positive No, after all, is not rejection of the other but rather affirmation of your basic needs and values.
If your customer demands a price cut, saying, “Your prices are way too high,” it is tempting to counter with “But look at our quality, our service, our reliability.” The trouble is that the other may not really hear you, for the word but is a verbal cue that they are about to be contradicted. People do not like to be contradicted, so they close their ears. You are more likely to get your point across if you begin by acknowledging the other’s point first and then make your point—not in contradiction but in addition to their point: “Yes, you’re right, our prices are on the high side of the spectrum. And if you consider our quality, our service, and our reliability, I think you’ll find that they are very reasonable for the value being delivered.” It is a simple but potent change of words.
Don’t overreact, underscore. To underscore means to emphasize patiently and persistently that No in fact means No.
“I would prefer not to” is an anchor phrase worth remembering.
You can get to a satisfying agreement only by saying No to other possible agreements that do not satisfy your interests.
The only time the problematic customer or work associate hears from us is when we have a problem we want them to help solve. The only time we are nice to them is when we need something from them. This is clearly a recipe for trouble.
We need both Yes and No together. Yes is the key word of community, No the key word of individuality. Yes is the key word of connection, No the key word of protection.
In saying No positively, we are giving ourselves a gift. We are creating time and space for what we want.