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Getting to ‘No’

Roger Fisher and William Ury wrote a book over 30 years ago, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In“. Some of you may have seen, heard of, or have read the book, as it is used in college and law school classes to teach negotiation tactics and skills.

The book focuses on the method of principled negotiation based on four propositions: 1) separate the people from the problem; 2) focus on interests, not positions; 3) invent options for mutual gain; and 4) insist on using objective criteria.

(Admittedly, I read only a portion of this book for one of my political science classes when I was an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, College Park. The actual book from college is currently sitting on my nightstand waiting to be reread for the very first time.)

For a number of conflicts, dispute resolution such as negotiation should assist in making the best, most cost-effective and reasonable decision. In other situations, the only answer is “no.” For me, these situations do not arise during my course of dealings as an attorney with clients or opposing parties in litigation — they arise when I am dealing with requests from other commitments.

If you are a regular reader of Generation J.D. or a reader of my blog, you may know that I am a major proponent of attorneys becoming involved with the Maryland State Bar Association, their local bar association (Baltimore County for me), and their community. Getting involved is an easy three step process: 1) show up; 2) do good work; and 3) repeat. Before you know it, you will be asked to do more good work. You may move up the chain of command and might chair a committee or become a member of an organization’s board of directors. More doors will open and additional requests on your time will be made. (It almost sounds like “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss).Being a part of an organization or committee or board, however, is very different than being active on the organization, committee or board. Some people work tirelessly and in the best interest of the organization while others merely show up for the fancy dinner meetings and fun events. Remember, it is worse to serve on a committee and not participate then it is to never serve on the committee at all.

So, sometimes, you need to get to “no.” One of the hardest things to do early in your career is turn away an opportunity that may be beneficial down the road, but sometimes it must be done. When it comes to the work-life balance, it is hard to separate the people from the problem.

When, for the second day in a row, your oldest son is crying because he wants to spend a little time with you in the morning as you are rushing off to your second consecutive breakfast meeting, the answer may seem obvious. At other times, it may not be so easy. But, remember, “no” is sometimes the best response.


  1. There is no question you are right about this Michael. I have worked with William Ury for many years and he would absolutely agree with your point. In fact, he agrees so much with you that he wrote a subsequent book called “The Power of A Positive No” in which he argues that indeed you have to get to no sometimes. How you do that so you don’t lose the relationship and the deal is the key and that is the focus of the framework found in “The Power of A Positive No”.

    Hope you and your readers find this helpful.


    Josh Weiss