Book Review: The Power of a Positive No.

Is it a self-help book? Is it a book on negotiations? The Power of a Positive No felt like both. Author William Ury called it a pre-quel to his classic book, Getting to Yes and this follow up book, Getting Past No. His thesis is that people must (1) fully understand their interests before negotiating, (2) say “no” to that which is against their long term interests, (3) say no in a “positive way that enables them to stand up for what they value without destroying the relationships” with the other side. By going through this process, parties can say “yes” to a deal that satisfies both parties with a lower risk that the agreement will fall apart later. Better to assert a principled “no” than say “yes” to something that “undermines our deeper interests” says Ury.

A positive “no,” argues Ury, is the best choice when one conflicts with another. Less attractive options are accommodation with something you do not like, attacking the other side, or trying to avoid the true issues. Ury views the process as uncovering and saying “yes” your own deeply rooted interests, saying “no” in an appropriate way to the other side, and then “get to yes” with the other side. He uses this tree several time to illustrate.

Ury’s illusration of his Positive No concept

The book goes on and on and on for 240 pages. It rehashes many of the concepts familiar with mediators and negotiators – concepts Ury and his co-author discussed in Getting to Yes. The perspective is a bit different. This book seems like a support group for someone about to enter into an important negotiation. It provides an analytical framework for thinking about an upcoming negotiation or confrontation, whether it is in business or between family members. The book offers suggestions on tone and technique of communications, which include explaining your interests or reasons for rejecting the other’s proposals and treating the other with respect and dignity before you present your counter-proposal. Ury reminds people to remain calm and in control of one’s emotions and other things that are pretty much common sense. I found myself skimming pages after the midpoint of the book.

Experienced mediators and negotiators can skip The Power of a Positive No. On the other hand, if you, personally, are facing a big issue, whether it is with family, work or business, this book will help you prepare and give some tools to for the upcoming confrontation.

Ury’s third book reminded me of some movie sequels. Rocky I was pretty good, but by Rocky III, we’d been there and done that.

Jeff Merrick, Merrick Mediation Services, ©2012

Jeff Merrick