Getting Past No: Summary & Review

getting past no book cover

Getting Past No is a popular book on negotiation. It teaches how to negotiate when things get difficult, when it seems like you reached an impasse, or when your negotiation partner is refusing to negotiate.

Bullet Summary

  • Put your ego away and focus on the goal
  • Listen to them first if you want to be listened to later 
  • Make it easy for them to say yes and compromise
  • Always (re)frame the negotiation as an attempt at finding a win-win (“enlightened collaborator” technique)

Full Summary

About the Author:
William Ury is an American anthropologist, academic,  and negotiation expert. He is one of the co-founders of the Harvard Program on Negotiation and, based on what he learned on the HPN, he previously co-authored the negotiation classic “Getting to Yes“. 

The 5 Enablers of “No”

William Ury first addressed the causes of poor negotiations which are more likely to lead to a “no”.

He summarizes them into five high-level stumbling blocks:

  1. Your Emotional Reaction:  When facing difficult opponents it’s easy to take things personally and escalate instead of staying neutral and focused on the solution 
  2. Their Negative Emotions: Same for the other side. Great negotiation doesn’t just handle their emotions, but also the other party’s emotions
  3. Their Position: Inexperienced negotiators negotiate from positions instead of general needs and outcomes (the difference is that there are many ways of achieving a good result when you focus on needs)
  4. Their Dissatisfaction & Skepticism:  People sometimes stick with uncooperative positions simply not to lose face or not to “lose” to you. Or because they don’t trust you and are skeptical
  5. Their Power: If they have much more power than you have, they might focus on winning or power-bending 

If angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, count to 100

The 5 Steps of Getting Past No

William Ury lists five major steps for dealing with difficult negotiations, and they are:

  1. Go to the Balcony: To control their poor behavior you must control your own. Take a break when things are getting intense instead of giving in or counterattacking. or find an excuse to take a break
  2. Step to Their Side: They expect you to dig in, counterattack or refuse. Instead, listen, find a way to say yes, and acknowledge their points (acknowledging doesn’t mean you agree)
  3. Reframe: When they attack or criticize, don’t say “no” or “but”, but nudge them towards the challenge of meeting each side’s needs. Don’t teach but ask problem-solving questions
  4. Build Golden Bridges: Once you’re moving in the right direction, resist the temptation of pushing and cajoling. Instead, find ways that make it easy for them to say yes: save face and make the outcome look like a win for them.
  5. User Power to Educate: If the other side still refuses to nudge and you might need to use power, do so to educate and never to punish or embarrass.
    Pushing people into a corner only leads to a lose-lose.
    Right after the display of power, go back to the golden bridge.

Focus on getting what you want, not on getting even

You’re Enough to Fix Bad Negotiations

It takes two people to escalate, but one is enough to avoid an escalation and bring it back to a more productive one.

When you overreact emotionally you become part of the problem.
Going to the balcony allows you to avoid those nasty escalations that lead to lose-lose arguments.

But going to the balcony also means that you avoid caving in when you feel the pressure is getting too high.
Your worst enemy is yourself: you can only make the concession you’ll later regret.

You are the only one who can make the concession you’ll later regret

Listen & Step Into Their Side

Every human being has a deep need for recognition. By listening to them and acknowledging their point of view, you help them feel recognized and treated like human beings.

That greatly enhances your chances of negotiating for a win-win.

These are the steps to effectively step into their side:

  • Listen
  • Let them know you listen by paraphrasing what they said
  • Acknowledge their point and feelings
  • Apologize if appropriate
  • Agree with all you can agree on
  • Replace “but” with “yes, and… “

See here a case study on poor listening skills:

Listening is the cheapest concession you can make

Reframe: Move From Positional to Problem Solving

William Ury talks here about moving from positional negotiation (ie.: this is my position VS yours) to a mutual effort of problem-solving.
This is the key tenet from his other wonderful book Getting to Yes.

Whenever the other party goes into positional and confrontational bargaining, you must reframe it to a more helpful win-win approach. Here’s how:

  • Ask problem-solving questions

Avoid questions with one-word answers. For example, if you ask “can we make an exception to the policy” it’s too easy for them to say no.
A question like “OK, what could we do to find a way here”.

  • Ask “what if” and “what’s your advice”

To move towards possible cooperative options for agreement.

The idea is that you let them move towards the issue with their proposal instead of telling them.

  • Ask “what makes that fair” 

When they come up with a solution that is one-sided to move towards more independent standards of resolution.

  • Reinterpret negative behavior

Whenever you get an insult and a comment, drop the insult and only focus on the positive side of the comment.

Alternatively, you can reinterpret what they said as if they meant whatever is useful to move the negotiation along.

Also, read:

To change the game, change the frame

getting past no

Real-Life Applications

Some great, great power moves pills on this. 
For example:

  • Blame the lawyer to gain time

If you want to gain time but don’t want to make it seem like you don’t trust them or that you are indecisive, you can say that your lawyer insists on checking contracts out… “you know how lawyers are”.
Or you can say “you put a lot of thought into this didn’t you” and then you add “well I’d like to do the same”, fold the proposal, and put it in your briefcase.

  • Paraphrase their point to make them feel powerful

In the chapter on “stepping into their side,” William Uryr says you must paraphrase their position.
When they can confirm or correct you, you also give them control and a feeling of control and satisfaction.

Great, great observation there, I had never thought about it before.

  • Propose alternatives for him to select

When he chooses one of your options, it becomes his idea. 
I might add here, it’s even better if you allow him to flash out that proposal.

  • Reality testing questions instead of threats

Instead of threatening, you can let them reach the conclusion of the nefarious consequences by asking “what do you think will happen if we don’t agree” and “what do you think we will do”.

If they still don’t bite, you can end with a statement about what the consequences will be.
For example: “I got a job offer that would help me earn more. I’d like to stay here, I enjoy working with you, what should I do… “

  • Use force to instruct and teach, not to punish

When you punish someone, you increase the chances of escalations, mutually destructive behavior, and lose-lose.

Instead, if you must use force, do it in a way that won’t destroy your relationship.

Your goal is to show that not agreeing is the worst solution for them than agreeing.

Always remember to provide them with a way to save face when they go back to the negotiation table (also read: how to make friends and influence people).

Bring them to their senses, not to their knees


Getting Past No is a wonderful book with little cons, but I could find a few blemishes:

  • Some Examples Were Too Submissive

William Ury makes a great point that ego and thin emotional skin get in the way of effectiveness.

And I totally agree.
Yet a few times his characters’ examples ended up being too lenient in my opinion.

A budget director, for example, tells a department’s head that she had already put his name on the list of budget cuts. Without talking to him first.
In the example, he totally ignores her action and keeps focusing on a solution.
But her action was very disrespectful and she went over his head: that set a bad precedent. He should have definitely addressed that and defended his boundaries.


Among many pros:

  • All the basics of difficult negotiations are here

All the basics of effective negotiation against difficult people are here. 

  • Great examples

There are plenty of examples in “Getting Past No“, and many of them are really good.


Getting Past No is a wonderful text on negotiation.

Many of the basics for dealing with difficult negotiators are here. 

That doesn’t mean that negotiating will become easy: moving past your ego, the central tenet of “Getting Past No“, is not easy.

But once you know what’s good, you can at least train towards it. 

Check the best negotiation books or get the book on Amazon

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