Don’t be forced into a yes or no answer

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I’ve talked before about one of my biggest leadership learnings.  My job as a leader is not to generate a yes, instead it is to generate a trustworthy response, be that a yes or a no.  This is critical to being an effective leader but what about the person who gives the response.  Is the responsibility all on the leader to generate a trustworthy response?  Why do we answer yes, when we really should answer no?

Why do we say yes?

Life would be so much easier if we only said what we felt.  Or would it?  Others might be offended that we declined their offer.  We might also miss out on future opportunities when we aren’t asked in future.  A personal example comes to mind.  I mentioned to my boss I was feeling overwhelmed and had too much on my plate.  A while later they reorganized my work and moved the part of my job I enjoyed the most to a peer.  If I had only kept my mouth shut and kept on saying yes, this wouldn’t have happened.

It may have avoided this outcome, but it wouldn’t have solved my problem.  I did have more work than I could handle and be at my best.  So is there a better way to respond?  A way that we are not forced into a yes or no answer?  When these are our only options and we are under pressure, our default response will be yes.

Powerful responses to a request

There are three other ways we can respond to an offer.  They are:

  • Seek more information – ask questions to understand the other persons underlying motivation.  What do they really want that might be different to what they are asking.
  • Renegotiate – I can’t do that but I could do this.
  • Commit to commit – In this response, we commit to get back to the requestor with an answer at a future time.

Commit to commit is a very powerful response.  We often say yes because we feel we have to respond on the spot.  Later on, after thinking more about it, we regret saying yes.  Commit to commit creates time for our emotions to subside and a chance to think about how we should respond.  When I led a team, it gave me time to consult with the team before giving an answer.  They appreciated this very much.

The next time you feel under pressure to give an immediate response try commit to commit.  Start by asking if the requestor needs a response now or can they wait to get a committed answer.  Explain why your answer will be better and most important, you want to give them a response you will stand behind.  If you are a leader, remember your responsibility is to generate a trustworthy answer, be that a yes or a no.  Make it safe for them to give you a no.  Better still, if it is an important decision, invite them to think about it and come back later with an answer.