The Power of a Positive No — William Ury

Hannes Kleist
6 min readNov 17, 2021


Buch-Review — Hannes Kleist — 20.05.2020

I am a natural people pleaser. Ask me something and I will comply. I hate contradicting people or not help them — often to the detriment of myself, my family and my team.

Saying “No” to your stuff that is not in your interest or priority is critical to long term success. As the saying goes: “Strategy is to say, what you are not going to do.” If you say yes to every demand you will get pulled apart by other people priorities, end up stressed and worst (if you want to please people) not serving anyone properly.

The key, however, is to say “No” in a positive way that keeps the relationship with the other person intact.

That’s what this beautiful book is about.


The first step in the method is to uncover the Yes that lies behind your No. The deeper you go into your core motivation, the more powerful your Yes will be and thus the more powerful your No.

There are a lot of “Yes” and “No” in this book. 😏

When you want to say No, remember the samurai’s lesson: do not react out of anger — or indeed out of any negative emotion such as fear or guilt. Take a deep breath and focus on your purpose — your Yes — in this situation.

Even though it feels so “right” to be indignant and lash out — I have yet to find an instance where that helped.

Become aware of your emotions and, in so doing, take control of them rather than let them take control of you. The most effective way to deal with your negative emotions is not to act them out. It is to hear them out.

Going full mindful. I do that now…

The most powerful intentions are positive. They are for, not against.

It’s good to dig deep for the root motivation. The key value…

It grounds you in something positive. You can now stand on your feet without standing on their toes. Your No can be for your needs, not against the other.

That is a beautiful sentiment.

Perhaps Plan B’s biggest benefit is that it gives you the psychological freedom you need to say No to the other effectively — without accommodating, avoiding, or attacking.

I think it was Donald Trump who said: The person who needs to take the deal, looses.

Never take a person’s dignity: it is worth everything to them, and nothing to you.

I have come across this aspect so many times from so many angles — negotiation, leadership, parenting, personal development

The key to every person is: Do not belittle them. Everyone needs to feel important and extraordinary.


You-statements, however, naturally make the other feel defensive and reactive.

I have yet to encounter a situation where it helped to accuse the other person. Rather speak about how you feel and how a (concrete) behavior in a specific situation made you feel — or what the consequences have been. Totally takes the sting out of the situation.

We use that Situation-Behaviour-Impact paradigm to give feedback.

Talking about being very careful with words:

While it may feel satisfying to judge the other, even surreptitiously through the nuance of a word, it rarely escapes the other’s notice. It stirs up emotions of anger, defensiveness, and resentment and makes it all the harder for them to understand what the problem truly is.

I try to not use the words “why” and “but” because of the defensiveness, it provokes. Rather ask “how” questions.

Instead of saying “Your demand is totally unreasonable,” stick to the facts: “If we were to make the changes you have requested, it would delay delivery of the product to you by three months and raise the cost by $ 100,000.”

Always point out the consequences.

An “I’m right, you’re wrong” argument can go on forever and never get you anywhere. What counts at this moment more than who is right and who is wrong is what you feel and need — and what they feel and need.


Psychologists have found that venting at the other can be a counterproductive method for cooling down. Far from decreasing one’s level of anger, angry outbursts usually increase it and, in fact, prolong an angry mood.

That’s so counter-intuitive. It feels so “right” to finally put the other person in their place 😉

I usually try to be mindful of my bodily reactions to cool them down.

For those of us who shy away from the use of power and have a tendency to accommodate or avoid, it can sometimes be useful to begin our sentences with the word No in order to bring power back into our Nos.

Ha. I use that sometimes. Just “No”. Then wait 10 seconds. The other part will ask “Why” and use have permission to voice your objections.

One powerful way to frame the limit you set is in the form of a broader policy of which your No is but one instance. For example, “I have a policy of never serving on boards.” Or “I make it a personal policy never to lend money to friends.” Or “I never respond to phone solicitations.”

That does help to power up your inner resolve.

Talking about, when you need to think about a proposal and the other party is trying to force you to respond right now:

“If you need an answer right now, the answer is No.”

That’ll show ’em. 😂

Remember that saying No is an exercise in persuasion, not just communication. You want the other to accept your No.

This is another nugget. If you give a hard no, the other party very will often be offended and will aggressively try to persuade you. They might actually try to sue you. I try to walk the other party through my situation and my thinking. I also anchor this very high (i.e. telling them up front, that they will hate, what I am about to tell them).

Offer a positive behavioral solution to your problem. Behavior has the advantage of being observable.

Whenever I decline a reasonable request, I try some way of helping the other party. For instance, I try to find somebody else, who can help them.


You give respect not because of who they are but rather because of who you are.

I cannot remember the context, but I like the idea.

Remember that you are not responsible for the other’s reaction. Let them experience their natural reaction to your saying No. Don’t try to save them from feelings of disappointment or sadness; those are part of the normal process of acceptance.

That’s something I learned with the boys. If you try to tell kids that something they are upset about is not worth being upset about — not getting the toy the other kid has — you invalidate their emotions. With that, you disrespect them. That will always backfire.

Talking about the difference between sympathy and empathy.

Sympathizing, as nice as it sounds, may lead you to weaken and yield. You can empathize (which means showing understanding) without sympathizing (which means feeling the pain with them). Empathy is a form of respect.

Every book defines that differently, it seems to me.

The rule in theological debates was that you had to repeat back what the other had said until they were satisfied you had understood their meaning, and only then could you make your own point.

I love that format. I want to make that a policy: Whenever I disagree with somebody, I first need to get them to say “that’s right” after I repeat back their argument. I would like to find a better way then to start the rebuttal with “But…”. I try to ask “how” questions but end up at the same place three sentences later…

Acknowledge the truth of the difficulties, thank the person, and focus on a positive future. No need for sugary words — a matter-of-fact acknowledgment and a simple thank-you will do.

Oh, I need to learn to stop explaining myself to death. Instead, I should explain my points and then shut up.


Keep practicing. It is a good exercise to say No at least once a day in a situation that counts. For those of us who are accommodators, it is important to run the risk of sounding disagreeable and making someone upset. Remember that you have the right to say No — indeed, the duty to yourself to say No — when it really matters.

Buy the book on Amazon

Hannes also shares sales strategy and tutorials for startups on YouTube and at his consultancy’s blog.



Hannes Kleist

MBA, 10 years strategy at ProSiebenSat.1, 5 years app startup (exited), 5 years digital agency, now helping startups with sales