How to say No with Grace – May 2018

coaching - protecting your boundaries
How to say No with Grace

Do you struggle to protect your boundaries and honour your values?  Do you find yourself saying yes when you really want to say no? I know I did until I found William Ury’s marvelous book “The Power of a Positive No”. The principles and process in this book have shaped my relationships and my way of honouring my values and boundaries with positive life-changing results. In this post, I’ve summarized Ury’s process for saving relationships AND still saying no.


According to Ury, all good “Nos” are in service of a higher “yes”.  The No is intended to be not a negative, but a positive no that serves to value, create, protect or change something else.  Only by saying No to competing demands for your time and energy can you create space for the Yeses in your life…the people & activities that really matter to you…that are aligned with what you value. The secret to preparing the other person to eventually say Yes is not to reject them but to respect them.  Let the respect diminish & offset the sting of rejection.  Respect means giving positive attention to the others by listening to them & acknowledging them as fellow human beings.  Treat the other with the same sense of dignity that you would like to be treated.  Respect is an expression of yourself & your values.  The more powerful the No you intend to deliver the more respect you need to show.  Respect is the key that opens the other’s mind & heart.  One of the great arts in life is learning how to disagree without being disagreeable.

Any time during the day when you find yourself in a situation or conversation in which demands are being made of you to which you want to say no, pause & use the questions below to enable you to respond in a resourceful way that honours the relationship & allows you to be true to your values. If you need time to think your response through, say this to the other person & ask that you schedule a time to have a conversation about the request.

1) What do I want to say No to?

  • Describe the request that is being made of your to which you want to say no. Avoid getting into a story about the request: just describe the request simply in your words.

2) Uncovering your Yes!

  • What value or objective deeply matters to me in this situation…with this person?
  • What am I seeking to create by saying No? What other activity or person am wanting to say Yes to?
  • What am I seeking to protect by saying No? What core interest of mine is at risk if I say Yes or simply continue to accept the situation or other’s behaviour?
  • What am I seeking to change by saying No? What is wrong with the situation or the other’s behaviour and what would be improved if that situation or behaviour changed?

3) Empowering your No.

  • What is it I want to say No to now, based on my Yes?
  • Do I have the interest in saying No? Will saying No protect or advance a key interest of mine?
  • Do I have the power to say No? Do I have the ability to sustain my No and ride out the reaction in this situation/by another person?  Do I have a sound backup plan?
  • Do I have the right to say No? Am I allowed to say no in this situation?  Will I be breaking the law or a written agreement by saying No?

4) Respecting your way to Yes? (the yes/no/yes sandwich)

  • How can I respect this person/situation rather than reject them/it? The more powerful the No you intend to deliver, the more respect you need to show.  Respect is the key that opens the door to the other’s mind and heart.
  • How can I be assertive without being aggressive? No is the word we use to express our power.  When we overdo our No, it comes across as an attack, when we under-do our No is comes across as hesitant.
  • How can I respond rather than react? Responsive behaviours are about choice and is a win/win perspective.  Reactive behaviours are about no choice and a win/loose perspective.
  • What alternatives can I propose that respect me and the other person/people in this situation? As you close one door, open another.  Offer an alternative.  Make a constructive request.  Propose an outcome of mutual respect.  End on appositive note.

Don’t just say NO:

Say:   Yes!    No.    Yes?

Yes! I can see how this request is important to you…..

No. I am not able to meet this request because…..

Yes? Would you consider instead……

 Check out more inspiration from William Ury at

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