Recent events have me re-reading William Ury’s “The Power of a Positive No.”, published in 2007. Ury co-founded Harvard’s Program on Negotiation and is currently a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Harvard Negotiation Project, so I’m inclined to listen up when he has something to say.
Ury posits that the best agreements represent each party’s value set and what they truly stand for – which means saying “no” to self-interested terms and conditions until the agreement is worthy of a yes. This sounds contentious and argumentative but it doesn’t have to be. Ury’s approach is nuanced, recognizing that a poorly delivered no can result in a relationship break with a colleague, friend or loved one. Saying no in the right way and for the right reasons can strengthen business and personal relationships, and lead to better results for all involved.
A friend recently invited me to apply for the board of our local farmers market. I love our farmer’s market and I’d have been more than pleased to serve on the board, if they accepted my application. I never gave them the chance to even review the application because I said no to the opportunity.
My decision was rooted in two very real issues: taking on a new obligation would compromise volunteer commitments I’d already made and my business would suffer if I added to my workload. Last week I was so behind in my work that one workday didn’t finish until 3:15 am. I participate in daytime meetings and phone calls as part of my nonprofit board responsibilities. I’ve provided dozens of pro-bono hours over the last few months.
Saying “no” to the farmers market opportunity wasn’t just the right answer, it was the only answer. Since then, I’ve also been scaling back expectations with the causes I already support. I hope I do it well enough to keep relationships I truly value.
My experience is not unique. As entrepreneurs we are all “doers.” We are the folks who coach teams, are active where we worship, contribute to the wellbeing of the towns where we live. Sooner or later there are diminishing returns and something suffers: the quality of our work, our relationships or own health. That is the point at which we must come to accept that sometimes “No” is the right answer.
This Saturday is Small Business Saturday. My farmers market friend, Yvonne Van Cort and her husband Roy Solomon, own THE quintessential small-town bookstore. If you don’t have a small town bookstore, I’ll lend you mine.
To shop at the Pleasantville Book Store (maybe for some of William Ury’s numerous works) call Yvonne or Roy at (914) 769-8322 or visit their Facebook page at The Village Bookstore of Pleasantville, NY.