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Book Review of: The Power of a Positive No

How to Say No and Still Get to Yes

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Review of The Power of a Positive No, by William Ury  (Hardcover, 2007)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

The title isn't a cute play on words. This book really does reveal how to say "no" in a positive way. Some people think saying no is negative behavior, without recognizing the reality that failing to saying no (when you should) can do immense harm. Some people think that getting your way ("winning") is what matters, and they render their "no" in a way that diminishes their own position and everyone involved.

The first view is disrespectful to yourself and dishonest toward the other person. The latter is disrespectful to the other person and dishonest toward yourself. Neither view takes into consideration that two parties have their own needs and agendas to meet. When one side loses, both lose.

A third way, which Ury reveals, is honest and respectful to both parties. Consequently, it leads to a positive outcome for both parties. Sometimes, it's a matter of leaving a door open. You may have worked with someone who quit and came back several times over the course of many years--how did that person manage to say no to your employer and yet leave the door open to being rehired later? A "no" doesn't need to inflict negative results--it can provide positive results. How that happens is the subject of this book, and Ury provides many examples to show how this works.

In fact, one example from this book was a verbatim suggestion given to me by a business associate just last year. In a pre-sale message, we needed to tell a customer no to some features he wanted. I had sent my associate my planned reply, and she came back with a suggestion--it was a softener to the no, one that left the door open without tying us down. The customer was delighted with my modified reply, and I closed the sale. After the sale, I compared both replies and saw that my original, while not patently offensive, didn't leave the door open and could easily have left the customer feeling cold.

Recognizing these kinds of gems in this book helped reinforce to me the credibility of the author. Yes, he already came with plenty of high-end credentials, as a quick online search on "William Ury" reveals. But what really grabbed me was the substance of the book. Here's a subject we all have to deal with, on various levels, but we find it so hard and so frustrating to get it right. We find ourselves constantly choosing between saying yes to have harmony and saying no to protect our interests. But we don't need to be in that position. It's not an either/or choice.

You can say no to someone's (offer, demand, viewpoint, preference, plans) in a way that leaves that other person feeling better for the exchange, and thus enhances the relationship. You can refuse a customer's demands and not lose the sale or watch future sales evaporate. You can tell your spouse no (to that golf outing, new car, cruise) and not start a fight. You can tell your child no to going to (name the place) without getting an argument or temper tantrum in return. You can tell your boss no to yet another (assignment, transfer, trip, seminar) without sinking your career advancement. How you say no allows you to do these things. And that is what Ury addresses from his years of experience in negotiations.

As I read through this book, time and again I found myself nodding, "Yes, that's exactly right." Other times, I found myself thinking, "So, that's how I should have handled (name the circumstance)!" or "I can see how this works better than the way I normally do it."

Many times, I have said no to someone or disagreed with someone, only to be surprised that the other person is offended. I may have said, "This is wrong," but the other person heard, "You are wrong." You can say no to the proposal without saying no to the person. Yury explains how to do this.

It's a powerful skill, and not just in business. For example, have you fought with a friend or family member over something trivial? Or, flipping that around, have you bought into the "go along to get along" concept, only to fume later?

The process of providing another person with a positive no has three stages: preparation, delivery, and follow-through. The book is divided into three Parts, each of which deal with one of these stages. Each Part contains three chapters, bringing the subtotal to nine chapters. The final (tenth, but unnumbered) chapter concludes the book by explaining the marriage of yes and no.

This book is a winner. If you practice its principles, both you and the recipient of your "no" will feel like--and be--winners, too. I must caution you, this book does not provide some simplistic formula or magic words to utter. It takes time to master the concepts and apply them correctly. Ury provides plenty of examples to show that doing so is well worth the effort.

Be sure to read Getting Past No and Getting to Yes, and Negotiation Genius, as well.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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