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Turn Your Emotions into Resolve - How to Say No




Excerpted from
The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes
By William L. Ury, Ph.D.

Once you have clarified your intention, it is time to give it energy. That energy can come from your emotions, properly harnessed. In addition to serving as warning signals of unmet needs, emotions play another critical function: they provide fuel for action. They impel us to take appropriate action to protect our core interests, giving us courage and resolve. As champion athletes know well, emotions, it directed properly, can provide enormous motivational power.

So instead of letting your emotions drive you, harness them and channel them into resolve-the will to address your unmet needs and advance your deepest values. Your positive intention does not come out of a vacuum, but rather grows out of your emotions.

No one understood and demonstrated this process of transformation better than Mahatma Gandhi, who, without a single weapon or man under arms, succeeded in putting an end to the centuries-long colonial domination of India by the British Empire. He explained his secret as follows: "I had learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world."

To transform negative emotion into positive intention, first observe and accept your emotions, tracing them back to their source in unmet interests and needs. Watch the emotional charge shift from negative to positive as you listen deeply to your feelings. Then, as Gandhi suggested, conserve your energy. In other words, refrain from impulsive reaction, which is only a reckless waste of your precious energy. Finally, at the right moment, purposively release your emotional energy as resolve. Use it as fuel for appropriate action, not reaction. Let it serve as sustained motivational power for your No.

"Gandhi taught me at age twelve that anger is as useful and powerful as electricity," writes Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Arun, "but only if we use it intelligently. We must learn to respect anger as we do electricity."

In truth, there are no intrinsically negative emotions, only negatively charged emotions, which have the potential to become positively charged. Emotions such as fear and anger can be either destructive or constructive, depending on how you deal with them-as I learned during a very tense public gathering in Venezuela.

At the height of political tensions in Venezuela in 2003, at a time when many international observers feared an outbreak of civil war, I was invited by the United Nations to facilitate a daylong meeting of citizen leaders, including both ardent supporters and bitter opponents of President Hugo Chavez. The meeting was open to anyone, and the venue was an old theater in downtown Caracas seating five hundred people. Close to a thousand people showed up, and the National Guard was called out for fear violence might erupt between partisan groups. Naturally, the atmosphere in the room was charged with fear and tension. After introductions by several high-level international dignitaries, the podium was handed over to me to facilitate the meeting.

Acting on an intuition, I asked the participants to visualize for themselves concrete images of the destructiveness of the conflict-someone they knew who had been wounded or killed, a lost job, a broken friendship or family tie, a child's nightmare, whatever it might be for them. Then I asked them, "What Spanish word would you use to say No to the political violence?" The word several audience members suggested was "Basta! Enough!" So I said, "OK, then, I want to ask you a favor.

I would like to hear for one moment the voice of the Venezuelan people, a voice that until now has been silenced, the voice of sanity. Keeping your personal image of the conflict in mind, I would like to ask you to call out together "Bnsta with all the emotion you feel. Will you do this for me?" They nodded. On the count of three, a loud "Basta! swept the room. It was powerful. I still felt some holding back, perhaps driven by shyness, so I asked them to please repeat it. They did, and it was very strong. I asked them one final time, and with this third "Basta!" the entire theater shook to its rafters.

I mention this story because the atmosphere in the room changed perceptibly at that moment. Without overstating, I would say that the negatively charged emotions of fear and anger shifted into a positively charged intention to help put an end to the destructiveness of the conflict. As if to confirm this, that very afternoon in the theater the participants organized a committee to work together for peace in Venezuela. They met weekly and began to organize dialogues, street theater, radio and TV programs, school programs, and youth dances, all intended to reduce tensions and promote understanding. Three years after the fact, at the time of this writing, they are still going strong. They have grown into a social movement they call Aqui Cabemos Todos, meaning "here we all fit." It is fair to say that they have made a genuine difference in their own lives and that of their country.

Here is the lesson: you can use your emotions to mobilize yourself to say No and stand up for what is important to you. Anxiety, fear, and anger bring you the gift of transformative energy, which is precisely what you need to make internal and external changes. If you are able to hear them out respectfully instead of acting them out destructively, these emotions can become your friends and allies. They can give you the guts to say No-a full-bodied, deep-bellied, strong-voiced No.

Uncover Your Yes

Uncovering your Yes accomplishes three useful tasks:

It grounds you in something positive. You can now stand on your feet without standing on their toes. Your No can be for your needs, not against the other. Instead of rejecting the other by saying No, you can simply say Yes to what matters most to you.

It gives you a sense of direction. You now know where you are going with your No.

It gives you energy. You now have the fuel to deliver your No and to sustain it in the face of resistance.

Now that you have uncovered your Yes, it is time to empower your No. That is the subject of the next chapter.



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