Say no

This plate will never say No to you.

It’s 9am and you wait quietly while your colleagues shuffle silently into the meeting room. At this time of the week, it’s a status update meeting. The last time somebody gave a bad status report in this session, they were criticised, with questions about why things weren’t going as planned.

The conference phone rings. It’s the boss on the other end, calling from a different office. Everyone says hello. You can feel the tension in the room growing as the session begins. Around the room we go, reporting on the status of our projects until someone gives the wrong answer.

The wrong answer is “it’s behind schedule”.

Immediately, the spotlight shines on the person and they break into a sweat, speaking too much to try to justify their response. After 10 minutes of explanations and assurances that the problems will be fixed, the spotlight fades and the atmosphere returns to normal. At least until the next one.

The meeting ends and the person who gave the wrong answer vows never to do it again. “It’s not worth the hassle, I might as well just keep quiet so I can get through the meeting.”

Have you ever been in a meeting like this? Do you run your meetings this way? Where manager interrogate people? Where leaders focus intense scrutiny and negative energy on people that try to do the right thing?

When you criticise people for bad outcomes, people will stop talking

Yes, that’s right. If you make people scared of telling the truth because they know they’ll get in trouble, this behaviour will disappear.

What you will get instead, is an environment where everybody says the “right” thing.

The only problem is, the “right” thing won’t help you. Sometimes you need people to say no.

What you need is:

  • Honest feedback in an environment where people are confident to say no
  • A supportive environment where people feel like if they are having problems, others are there to help

Encourage your team to say no

If you reward your team for always saying “yes”, you will miss out on the benefits of hearing someone say No. Saying No is powerful.

When someone says no, it tells you that things aren’t OK. When your team says No, you know there is an issue that you can fix. Saying No gives you an opportunity to do something.

“Yes” means that there are no problems, or that people are scared to tell the truth.

Encourage people to say No, it’s the only way you’ll get any better.