Learning to say "Yes."

Jan. 3, 2012
When I was a senior officer in the military I was told by one of my superiors that I needed to learn to say “yes.”

I can be moving at 100 miles an hour, working an issue or putting out fires and then I run into a person that brings me to a dead stop. It can be a simple issue or maybe I am seeking something innovative and they say, “No, I can’t do it or it can’t be done.” Don’t get me wrong, if there is something impossible or illegal or has a solid business case as to why it can’t be done, then I back up, regroup and work alternatives. What I am talking about are people that find it easier to say “no,” because it is harder to say “yes.” Saying “yes” means that they have to do something, they have ownership for something and they are taking responsibility for an issue.

When I was a senior officer in the military I was told by one of my superiors that I needed to learn to say “yes.” He even had a sign on his desk that proudly proclaimed, “Say Yes!” I didn’t get it. My entire military career was spent on achieving a position where everyone had to tell me “yes.” Now I was being told that I had to tell everyone else “yes.” I eventually figured out that it was all about courtesy, professionalism and earning respect. Nobody likes a tyrant, regardless of where they are in the organizational food chain. Being capricious or mean just for the sake of avoiding extra work or proving your authority is a sure fire way to shorten a career. Yet I run into people that have been in a position for years and are known for a short fuse and are habitual “no” people.. These are people with critical skills that have a niche in the organization, an expert that nobody feels empowered to argue with, or challenge their opinion. They have been there the longest, and people will tell you, “Good luck getting that idea past that person.” Most of the time they have been doing their job so long that they don’t want leave their comfort zone. They know what works for them and anything else is a risk.

Risk is bad? I don’t think so; mitigated risk can open new opportunities. So what do you do when you confront the “no” person? Are you the one that tends to say “no” more than you say “yes?” Is your organizational culture predisposed to say “no?”

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