Our son turned 2 recently, and he seems to have a newfound desire to tell us “no.” He is increasingly testing his limits and boundaries, which often involves him saying “no” to us, and vice versa.
How he communicates “no” and how we respond represents a critical stage in his development. It also is a critical skill we must use every day in business and other negotiations.
Sometimes, we have to say “no” to a big customer who wants a major discount. Or we say “no” to the boss, whose unrealistic expectations on a project would set us up for failure. We even say “no” to family members when their interests collide with ours.
The challenge: How can we say “no” and still preserve these relationships? This is the subject of William Ury’s new book, “The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes.”
In it, Ury describes a three-step process, called the “Positive No” method, designed to help us achieve success in these often difficult situations. Here is Ury’s process, along with a few of my own thoughts.
1. Say “yes” to yourself and your interests.
Ury’s crucial first step — before you say “no” to anyone — is to focus internally on your core needs, interests and values and say “yes” to them.
So, explicitly figure out at the start why it’s so important to say “no.” Then express it clearly and succinctly, and stay true to it. This will empower your later “no,” and will increase your likelihood of success on all fronts.
For example, Ury tells how sports agent Bob Woolf came to represent basketball superstar Larry Bird. In the negotiations, Bird’s personal representatives interviewed several agents and asked each to name his fee. This appeared to be the crucial issue for Bird.
Woolf refused to name a figure, despite other agents doing so. Instead, Woolf said, he always worked on a percentage basis — and, even though he really wanted to represent Bird, it wouldn’t be fair to his other clients if he made a “special adjustment” for him.
Soon afterward, Bird’s representatives hired Woolf. Why? Largely because they respected the way he had stood firm with his position and principles. Woolf’s critical expressed interest was treating his clients equally.
As Ury notes, “‘Yes’ is essentially a value statement. You are asserting your value. It could be your value as a human being; in a commercial context, it might be the value of your product or service or brand; in a larger context, it could be your ethical and moral values. Ultimately, you are saying ‘yes’ to what truly matters.”
2. Say “no” by asserting your power.
To communicate your “no” most effectively, Ury suggests that you:
Develop and strengthen your Plan B. What will you do if your counterpart walks away from the negotiation table?
Matter-of-factly assert your “no” without being disagreeable or aggressive.
Consider patiently and persistently articulating your “no” and, if that doesn’t work, educate them about the consequences of their refusal to respect your needs. If that doesn’t work, go with your Plan B.
Regular readers of this column will recognize this step as concerning my second golden rule: Maximize your leverage. In fact, saying “no” in a negotiation is saying that your Plan B is better than saying “yes” to their conduct or proposal.
One quick example: Hostage negotiators regularly bring along SWAT teams (their Plan B); matter-of-factly refuse to give in to hostage takers’ demands (saying “no” without being disagreeable or aggressive); and spend hours patiently and persistently saying “no” while educating hostage takers on the consequences of their refusal to respect the needs of their hostages and everyone else.
In most cases, this works very effectively.
3. Say “yes” with a proposal furthering your relationship.
Finally, Ury recommends that you prepare your counterpart to say “yes” by treating them respectfully and exploring their needs and interests.
Propose a specific way to satisfy your interests and address theirs while still preserving the relationship. Negotiate to “yes” by stepping into your counterpart’s shoes, making it easier for them to say “yes” to an agreement, and reaching out and facilitating a healthier relationship.
In short, if your goal is to reach an outcome that protects your core interests and the relationship after saying “no,” come prepared with a proposal that addresses your and their interests, and then help them achieve their goals.
Bottom line: Next time you decide to say “no” to someone important in your business or life, don’t just blurt out “no.” Give it some strategic thought, including running it through Ury’s methodology.
Published September 7, 2007 The Business Journal