The Answer is Yes

Unless, of course, it would be illegal. In any other situation, I always start with yes.

No is easy. The answer no usually means I don’t have to listen, don’t have to get away from my computer, and don’t have to change my plans. In short, no means I don’t have to lift a single finger to do any extra work.

Saying yes, though, usually means I have to listen to new ideas, accept some risk as people try something new and, well, work harder than I was planning to.

– Someone wants to improve a process we’ve been doing the same way for years.

– Someone else wants to try a position normally reserved for someone above his rank.

– People want a tour of the ship on a weekend, or volunteers to speak at a class, or a little help with something I have a talent for.

– Even worse, someone wants to have a difficult conversation about how we make some of the decisions we do.

Some of the best ideas, energy, and momentum come from people under us in the organization. They see the issues differently and have a different understanding of how certain equipment and processes work. They also have different goals they are trying to meet, and perhaps that position they’re asking for helps them to those ends, which would be good for the organization when we find those win-wins.

So, when someone asks to come in and talk, I say yes. When someone asks one of these questions about ideas and opportunity, the only answer they don’t want is no. Even when they don’t expect yes, as long as it’s not a flat-out no, they’re happy.

No is final. It ends not just the idea sitting in front of me now, but also the next three that might have come up this year from that person, as well as those from his peers who now know I’m not interested. So, even when the idea initially sounds like a bad one, I say yes, but in a different way.

Instead of yes, let’s do it, I say yes, let’s invest some energy into working out the details. Maybe defining some of the requirements better and brainstorming as a group will get us closer to a solid yes. Often, all I need to do is share my concerns and let that person give them some thought. The first idea might have been questionable, but the second draft may be exactly what it should be. I said earlier that new ideas are the life-blood of any organization that wants to survive, and saying no to one will stop a dozen from coming my way.

Now, I have to admit, the logical endpoint of some questions is no, but my saying no isn’t the same as the person with the idea working towards no all by himself. If I say no to someone because the first draft of an idea was bad, the person asking doesn’t get the chance to really understand why, and it’s a chance lost to have someone learn the cause and effect of things at the higher levels.

But, what if I say no and then give them my expert logic on why? Then they’ll surely understand the big picture!

– False.

The minute you say no, people stop listening. Their eyes gloss over, they stop making eye contact, and they look for the door, all while you’re lecturing them. Like it or not, that’s what it feels like to them, and you don’t get to affect that. They came to you with an idea that they’ve probably put a lot of thought into. For some reason, they shared this idea with you, which involved some vulnerability and trust that you’ll listen and give it some thought.

The minute you start with no, you’ve let them down. Again, that’s how it feels to them. If you think back to an idea that you once had shot down in flames right in front of you, you’ll remember what that felt like– rejection.

Starting with yes is the least you can do. It allows you to connect with people, and you’ll almost always learn about something that either needs improvement or is perceived differently than you think by more than just the person in front of you. If it’s not illegal, unethical, or against policy, where’s the harm in at least starting with yes?

– Did you have an idea that got shot down in the first few minutes that you still think would have been good for the organization or people in it.

– For those in leadership positions, have you ever said no too soon and regretted it?

Have a great week out there.

– JT


James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.