The Power of a Positive No

Raphaelle Hernu
4 min readJul 3, 2021


I’ve not invented this title. 👆You may already know William Ury’s book that hasn’t aged a bit since it was first published to acclaim in 2008. 👍

Why is it so hard for most of us to say No when it’s truly about saying Yes to what really matters to us? A No can be so productive! 🧐

The reality is: our Yes comes intuitively. It’s the same impulse we have to smile back when we’re smiled at: we want to belong & be liked. We feel we need each other to survive or thrive.

But this biological bias comes at a cost. People-pleasers, who struggle saying No are more prone to:

  • Depression
  • Bad relationships
  • Resentment
  • Anxiety
  • Burnout
  • Lack of self-identity
  • Stress

So, how do we harness the power of a positive No without destroying relationships or risking exclusion, banishment, death, or heaven knows what other dreadful consequences our unconscious minds have dreamed up? 😝

Did you know that we experience on average 12 to 60,000 thoughts a day? And over 95% of these worries will come to nothing?

The truth is, when you need to say No to a new commitment, you honour existing commitments. That’s reassuring to people! When done correctly, your saying No demonstrates integrity, boundaries and purpose.

We’ll look at skilled ways to say No. But first, here 3 ways your No can go wrong:

  • The Accommodating No: saying yes when you want to say no
  • The Destructive No: a poor, defensive-aggressive delivery of your No
  • The Limbo No (I just made up that name 😎): the avoidance of any commitment, either yes or no

Now, here are 4 constructive ways to say No in any setting. Use these tools to reject your boss’ new assignment or set healthy boundaries with your kids.

1. The Polite No

  • Be very polite & acknowledge your counterpart’s kindness
  • Demonstrate humility by addressing your shortcomings
  • State your priorities & explain them (details lend sympathy to your cause)
  • Don’t backtrack (it causes confusion)


Thanks for reaching out and I liked how you organised the last event. At the moment I’m pretty maxed out at home with the kids’ exams. I can’t help you but thank you for the offer.

If this approach feels uncomfortable, consider that you may be supporting the priorities of others ahead of your own. Learning to guard your own agenda may help you feel better and accomplish more.

2. The Polite Workplace No

This variation is great for declining your manager’s request without looking lousy at the job or damaging your reputation:

  • Identify the trade-off
  • Propose options
  • Breakdown consequences of each option
  • Make your recommendation
  • Invite your superior to choose


This transaction is a great opportunity to strengthen the client relationship, yes. But if we proceed, we reach our full counter-party risk limit for the year but not our targeted revenues. We could team up to increase our risk return. I suggest partnering with x as they have a complementary offering but are not direct competitors. What’s your take on this?

Setting priorities safeguards your reputation, sets boundaries & claims respect.

3. The Blanket Policy

If you find yourself too quick to accommodate others, try this:

  • Define a value
  • Create a ‘once and for all’ rule to incorporate that value into your life

Here are some examples to try:

  • I don’t make decisions without sleeping on it
  • I don’t do social meet-ups before Thursdays
  • I only eat meat at weekends

Whatever rule you set for yourself, you can fall back on it anytime, in conversation with others. And the more you use it, the easier it gets.

4. Start With Yes

I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning William Ury’s technique. He’s the co-founder of the Harvard Programme on Negotiation and master of the positive No. Here’s his advice:

  • Start with your Yes & express your interest
  • Give your No & express your power, keeping your goal in mind
  • Offer Yes again, proposing to meet your counterpart’s goals without losing sight of your own


This sounds like a fantastic idea to increase our client reach. The team is pretty full on at the moment & need to stay focused. What about getting this tested with our local agent first ?

Can you spot the commonality between all four techniques? Saying No is saying Yes to something else more important. It’s then empowering & productive.

The addition of politeness & openness to others’ needs is all it takes to ensure your positive No gets the positive reception it deserves. 👍

I hope this brings you one step closer to your goals!



Raphaelle Hernu

Founder of | Coach Sustainable Performance & Mental Fitness | Event Organiser | Finance professional