If getting a yes is an inside-out process (see Part I), giving a yes can be equally complicated.
You remember the scenario – the resistant child finally acquiesces to the multiple demands of the parent to sit down, but defiantly mumbles, “Ok, but on the inside, I’m standing up!”
We’ve all been there; saying yes when you want to say no.
So, what about the child in all of us who wants to stand up when we're supposed to be sitting down?
Saying yes when we mean no, disrupts our internal equilibrium and sends a mixed message to those around us. No matter how well we think we can hide the incongruence, it leaks out. Without realizing it, the double message seeds doubt and mistrust in the mind of the hearer, potentially undermining relationships.
So why do we say yes when we mean no, and what can we do about it?
The Yes Person
For some, “yes” is a knee-jerk response triggered by a need to please. The consequence of automatically saying “yes” to every request is that it sabotages all hope of timely follow-through. Saying “yes” when you really should say “no” leads to over-commitment and under-delivery. Ironically, the yes person becomes a displeasing source of frustration and annoyance – the very thing that saying “yes” was supposed to prevent.
The Team Player
Sometimes we say “yes” instead of “no” because we want to be seen as a team player. While the motivation is admirable, the strategy is flawed and does little to promote real teamwork. Conflict (saying no) is critical to team success. As I often say to couples I counsel, “If two people agree on everything, then one of them is unnecessary.” It’s a “ditto” relationship and creates a weak partnership. The same applies to work teams. Conflicting opinions and ideas are a rich, but seldom tapped, resource for teams simply because conflict is difficult and often avoided. Saying “yes” when you mean “no” avoids conflict but limits team effectiveness.
But before you jump to a resounding “NO!” could I suggest that we begin with a sincere “why”?
Asking "why" can be either a passive-aggressive challenge or a bid for understanding. It is the latter that fosters clarity and collaboration. Knowing why you're asking why is an inside issue, so analyze your motivation first, then proceed humbly. The sequence is "yes," followed by an inquisitive "why." It might sound something like, "Sure, glad to…. Wondering if you could help me with some context so I can fully understand what you're looking for?"
Asking "why" is one of the contributions of effective followership. Hopefully, your manager just wants a "yes," not a yes-person. Finding ways to creatively explore, understand or even critique the rationale behind the directive allows you to contribute to the problem-solving process. To do so requires tact and diplomacy. Like adding salt or spice to an already prepared dish, it needs to be applied judiciously.
And sometimes, you just need to sit down.