One of my all-time favorite books is the Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes, by William Ury. Published in 2012, this book dives into the word no. Ury writes: “the most powerful word in the language is one that most people find difficult to say. Yet when we know how to use it correctly, it has the power to profoundly transform our lives.” I would summarize this book as a refreshing guide to setting boundaries professionally and personally, while putting yourself first in a way that respects others – which in turn, builds their respect for you.
After reading this book three times myself, I wanted a fresh perspective on Ury’s work. I talked to Katie Martin, a Zoetis dairy production specialist and sixth generation farmer and managing partner at Darlington Ridge Farms in Darlington, Wisconsin, with her husband Jim DiGangi and daughter Mila.
At the halfway point, I asked Martin why she chose this book. The answer surprised me. “Every December, I pick a word or theme for the new year. 2022 is about me. I like to describe my life as dynamic (which is a positive way to say that sometimes, it’s messy!) and the level of dynamic had escalated over the last year to the point that I was really struggling mentally and physically.” Martin continued, “The year of me kicked off with a Fit50 challenge at my local gym called HighVibe, which challenged us to read, walk, journal, workout and drink a gallon of water daily for 50 days straight. The other habits I had a head start on, but I have never consistently dedicated time to reading, and I knew that would be the hardest portion.”
Martin is currently on chapter five in the book, “Assert Your No.” Martin is only halfway through, but she has already been able to put a concept – behind every no is a positive yes, and the yes comes from having respect for yourself – into practice. “There are a few nuggets in this book that have already inspired me to finally stick up for myself. I have a colleague that has only provided me negative feedback over our decade-long relationship. Now, for the first time ever, I stood my ground. I said yes, please keep providing me feedback, but no, I will not only take negative feedback. For every three pieces of negative, I want one piece of positive feedback. Yes to positive. I know there is positive, and that helps drive my ambition.”
I think this moment is profound for Martin in her “me” journey. I have had similar experiences using the lessons in this book at three different points in my life – professionally, in a personal relationship and when I decided to make a major career transition. The most transformational for me was when I read this book early in my professional career. I needed to be brave and say no to work that I knew wasn’t a business priority and wouldn’t help us serve our customers. This book helped me strategically craft my response, and I said no to the abuse of my time but yes to the long-term success of our company. This gained the respect of my co-worker and helped me build a positive habit of setting boundaries. If I had to tie it back to a word or phrase that defined that period of my life, I was building self-confidence in my capabilities and believing in the value of my time. That’s what this book can help you do, too.
Martin summarized it perfectly: “This book is nothing what I expected, but then again, I am not sure what I expected. I have always thought that no is a negative, really bad word, and I hope that by the end of this book I have the confidence to eloquently say no for myself.”
I’d encourage you to read this book with a peer you feel comfortable having vulnerable conversations with, and focus on leaning into your word (or resolutions) this year. Together you can learn, listen and apply our learnings in real time. You might be surprised at the positive transformations this book drives in your own life!
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