Can you say NO in a positive way?

Over the last couple months, a few clients were struggling with a similar dilemma: wanting to be a good corporate citizen while also wanting to say no to peoples’ requests at times.   As we explored this tension between the seemingly different goals, inevitably, we explored the specific organizational politics, and thought through how to build relationships, promote oneself in a balanced way, and also not take on too much out of scope, particularly as demands and resources are tight.

William Ury, Co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, is most well known for his book, Getting to Yes, but he is also the author of the book, The Power of a Positive No; How to Say No and Still Get to Yes. In this book (published in 2007), Ury outlines a simple and easy to use formula, which changed the way I think about how to say no, and is an effective tool when you need to say no and genuinely want to be supportive of efforts and key relationships.

Formula for Delivering a Positive No:

Say YES – Articulate that you want to support the individual/team/organization in its goals

Say NO – Explain briefly that you are not able to meet the particular need/request as stated.

Say YES – Offer alternative(s) in terms of how you can and are willing to be of help/service to the goals.

I challenge you to try it out and see what you think! Chances are you will say “yes” to using it again.  Let me know how it goes!