No. Small Word. Big Impact. Focusing on What’s Most Important

No. Two letters. One complete sentence.

No. The word we loved to say as kids and have so much trouble expressing as adults.

No. The important boundary we set to protect our values, priorities, and deepest needs.

The solution to many challenges we face in our personal and professional lives is rooted in something called the Positive No.

The term Positive No originates with international mediator and negotiator, William Ury. One of the most important and regular book recommendations I make is for Ury’s Power of a Positive No. I have written about the Power of a Positive No before for Slaw and it is time to do so again because it continues to be such a useful and vital tool.

Here’s what’s important to know about the Positive No:

A Positive No recognises that every No to one thing represents a Yes to something else.

When your desk is overflowing with work, and you wonder how you are going to meet your deadlines, a No to an incoming piece of work is a big Yes to meeting your current commitments, to doing quality work, and to being reliable.

When you are ever so comfortable in your job but keep feeling a persistent calling to expand your horizons beyond the narrow constraints of your current role, that’s a No to the comfortable status quo and a Yes to continued learning and development.

When developing your business plan, it is critical to discern what ideas require a No, to create space for a Yes to focusing on the most important priorities.

No is a boundary setting word that protects what is most important. Yes to values. Yes to our priorities. Yes to our time.

The Positive No process developed by Ury works like this:

Imagine you are declining taking on a piece of work from a partner.

Step One: Express your Yes!

The first Yes is your expression of understanding for what the person across from you is asking. It is also about what you value. Having to say No to a partner who wishes to delegate work, the Yes could be expressed as:

I appreciate the opportunity you are presenting to me with this file and that you are in a bind. And I am deeply committed to meeting my deadlines and delivering quality work product.

Bolster your Yes by presenting additional facts:

I am currently assisting on several transactions that are closing this week. I have been working late every night and was in on the weekend. I don’t mean this as a complaint; this is simply to let you know what I have on the go.

Step Two: Assert your respectful No.

Because of this I cannot help you with this matter at this time.

Step Three: Close with a Yes? This is your alternate proposal. Options in the above scenario include:

I can be available to assist you in three days once the first of the transactions closes.


I believe Michael might have some time to assist you, would you like me to check with him?


If your matter needs to take precedence could we see Anne together to ask if I can step off her file to help you with this?

Here are some helpful tips for delivering your Positive No:

Take time to pause. Often we need time to consider a request and to frame how we wish to deliver our Positive No. If so, let the person know you cannot answer them immediately but will be back in touch within a set period of time.

Stay firm: People who rely on you to say Yes will try to persuade you. Hear them out and stand your ground. Listen attentively. Try not to interrupt. Acknowledge. This shows your respect. Then stay firm with your No.

Try it on yourself: Sometimes, we need to deliver a Positive No to ourselves. What are you currently saying Yes to that is not serving your most important priorities? Where do you need to wield your Positive No?

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