Learning to Say ‘No’ With Compassion and Confidence

One of the things I have struggled to do in my life is say ‘no’. However, after burning-out a couple of times in my life (yes I know I was a slow-learner), I needed to learn to say ‘no’. As a recovering people-pleaser. I knew I also wanted to learn to say ‘no’ using an informed approach, whilst looking after my basic needs and also the relationship. Fortunately, I came across the work of a number of people, including William Ury.


The Three-A’s

In his book, the Power of a Positive No, Ury refers to the ‘Three-A’s’ and indicates

“At the heart of the difficulty in saying No, is the tension between exercising your power and tending to your relationship. Exercising your power power, while central to the act of saying No, may strain your relationship, whereas tending to your relationship may weaken your power.”  (p.10).

The three most common approaches to this power-versus-relationship dilemma are referred to as the three-A’s –

  • Accomodate – where we say ‘yes’ to the relationship when we really want to say ‘no’,
  • Attack – when we use our own power to attack without the concerns for the relationship, and
  • Avoid – where we saying nothing at all and avoid the conflict and pretend it does not exist.

There is also a fourth trap, where each of the three-A’s combine in to what Ury calls the Three-A Trap.


What is the Way Out? A Positive No!

According to Ury, the way out of the three-A’s and the three-A trap is learning a positive ‘no’. A positive no is –

“a Yes! No. Yes? The first yes expresses your interests, the No asserts your power, and the second Yes furthers your relationship. A Positive No thus balances power and relationship in the service of your interests.” (p. 17).

As you can see by the explanation, the first yes is internally focused (i.e. on your needs and interests) and the second yes is externally focused. The key aspect of a Positive No is self-respect and focusing on what matters to you.


Learning to Say ‘No’ With Compassion and Confidence

Ury (2007), indicates there are three gifts of a positive no –

“you can learn how to say No skilfully and wisely, you can create what you want, protect what you value, and change what doesn’t work.” (p. 18).

Personally, when I came across those three gifts, they resonated with me. However, I also knew I needed to do some work as I didn’t know what I wanted (although I did know what I valued). So I started to take small steps towards what I wanted to cultivate in my life and change the things that were not working. And yes, more and more I am learning to say ‘no’ with compassion and confidence 🙂


Over to You…

I hope this post has given you some insight in to how it is possible to say ‘no’ with compassion and confidence. Remember – if can take time to change, so be kind to yourself! If you have any questions or comments please leave them below.


If you are ready to reclaim your courage and take the next step towards freedom and opening your heartwhy not join our Toolkit?


Reference –

Uyr, W. (2007). The Power of a Positive No: Save the Deal, Save the Relationship and Still Say No. Great Britain: Hodder and Stoughton.

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