The Power of a Positive No: Summary & Review

The power of a positive no

The Power of a Positive No” (2007) teaches readers how to say no and how to be more assertive in negotiations as well in life.

Bullet Summary

  • “Nos” are necessary for the “yeses” of your life
  • Find and communicate what you must say yes to before you deliver your no
  • End with a yes to find a mutually satisfactory agreement

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. He also co-authored the negotiation classic “Getting to Yes“ and “Getting Past No“. 

No Enables Yeses

The author says that our nos enable our yeses.
You cannot avoid saying no to some things in life if you want to say yes to what really matters to you.

In this sense, learning to say no enables you to live a fuller, richer, happier life by prioritizing what’s important.

In this regard, it’s similar to the message of books such as Essentialism, The One Thing, and The Art of Not Giving a Fuck.

Why Saying No Is Difficult

The author says that saying no can be difficult because it sits uncomfortably between the exercise of your power and the nurturing of your relationships.

My Note: True, plus there are further sources of discomfort
I think Ury is right.
However, the “fear of no” goes deeper in my opinion. The difficulty in saying no for many arises from different psychological sources as well. Fear, submission, lack of self-esteem, and fear of judgment, are also major stumbling blocks for people who have trouble saying no.
Also, read “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and for a deeper approach check out Power University.

The Three Approaches to Saying No

The author says there are three main approaches to saying no:

  1. Accommodate: say yes when you wanted to say no
  2. Attack: a poor, destructive way of saying no
  3. Avoid: try to avoid any commitment, neither yes nor no

The accommodation is an unhealthy yes because it neglects our real interests and buys a false temporary peace.
In the long run, it’s likely instead that it will do the opposite by growing our resentment and our discontent and it will make us more and more passive-aggressive.

Solution: The Positive No

A “normal” no starts with a no and ends with a no.

A positive no instead begins with a no and ends with a more conciliatory tone.
Often, it can end with a yes.

The key to a positive no is respect.
Respect for yourself and for the other individual.

Example of Positive No

How does it actually work?
Take for example a ma who needs more time off from his parents to have more time with his own family.
He would say something like this (adapted from the book):

Mom, I have a family as well, and they need me. I want to spend more time with them.
I will not be coming to visit every weekend anymore.
I propose to find a solution so that we can spend some time together while I also spend the necessary time with my family.

  1. The sentence starts with a matter-of-fact assertion and a declaration of intent (1. express your yes).
  2. Then it delivers a final no (2. assert your no)
  3. And it proceeds to seek a solution that will make everyone happy (3. propose a yes).

Steps to a Positive No

The steps to a positive no are:

1. Prepare your positive no

  1. Uncover your yes
  2. Empower your no
  3. Respect your way to yes

2. Deliver your positive no

  1. Express your yes
  2. Assert your no
  3. Propose a yes

3. Follow through on your positive no

  1. Stay true to your yes
  2. Underscore your no
  3. Negotiate to yes

The author dedicates a chapter to every single step.

Real-Life Applications

Here are some of the major takeaways I took with me:

  • Base Your No On A Yes

One of the biggest mistakes is that we ground our “nos” and refusals on what we are against. And that is more likely to lead to escalations, push-backs, and angry feelings.

Instead, we must ground our no, and deliver our “nos”, starting from what we are saying yes to.

For example, instead of saying you don’t have time for coffee with a friend, say you must spend all your time to finish an important project. Then say that’s the reason why you must say no to a coffee right now.

This is a simple, yet huge takeaway to revolutionize our communication.

  • Give Benefit of Doubt

To make your communication easier, you might give people the benefit of the doubt.
For example, if they get into the pool without showering first, you might approach them saying that the sign that it’s mandatory to shower before getting into the pool is a little difficult to see.
It helps them save face and gives them a second chance to choose proper behavior without feeling like they lost.

  • If “No” Is Difficult: Focus on Yourself

The author says that sometimes delivering a “no” can be difficult because we want to try to make it as sweet as possible on the receiver. That’s a way of “managing their reactions”, but their reactions are not up to you.

Your focus should be on delivering a “no” which is honest, frank, and respectful. How they react is not up to you

  • Let People Rage

Sometimes your “no” will be met with anger. Don’t backtrack right away and don’t attack. They are probably going through the stages of acceptance and need time to accept your decision.

  • Empathize, Don’t Sympathize

Sympathizing, or feeling their pain might lead you to drop your position. Instead, empathize, which means to show you understand them.

Great Quotes

On respect:

Even in the face of the other’s provocations, keep showing respect, remembering that you give respect not because of who they are but rather because of who you are.

This is not a motivational quote, but you can get enough of them by opening your FB or Instagram :).
This one made me laugh and it was so cute that I wanted to share it with you:

Once I was watching the film Hook with my daughter Gabriela, then five years old.
In one scene, Captain Hook says vehemently to Peter Pan, “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!”
My daughter looked up and commented: “He shouldn’t say that. He should say, ‘I don’t like you but I’ll play with you sometimes.’”
The wisdom of opening a door is known to five-year-olds but often forgotten in adulthood.

Also Read

If you find this content interesting, then you will also find these books or lists of best books interesting:


Sometimes Some Exaggerations
This is really unconnected to the content, but sometimes I felt the author exaggerated a bit too much on the examples.
Talking about a Cold War crisis he referred to “total annihilation” and “end of the world” scenarios. But as much as nuclear war would prove tragic and disastrous, it wouldn’t necessarily lead to “total annihilation” of every form of life or of every human.
This is nitpicking, but I’m very big against generalizations and exaggerations :).


I loved this book because of the great wisdom it contains on proper and effective communication.
As well:

Great Real Life Examples
The Power of a Positive No helps you learn with a lot of examples. Exactly like I like it :).
And some of the examples Ury shares are very helpful when it comes to communication and influencing.

Great Influencing Techniques
Remaining calm as Hugo Chavez raged and went through the stages of acceptance: genius.

The power of a positive no


I absolutely loved The Power of a Positive No: it has boatloads of great wisdom, wonderful examples, and real-life applications.

It’s a great text to improve your communication, increase your influencing skills, and, as well, become a more assertive individual in life.

Also, read:

Or get the book on Amazon

Scroll to Top