Learning to say "Yes." | Pete Rivera | Healthcare Blogs Skip to content Skip to navigation

Learning to say "Yes."

September 2, 2008
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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?”



sometimes it's a simple matter of framing the question properly. many suggest that you must articulate the benefits to the person that will be heading up the project, that you must make a clear case as to why it's in their personal or professional interest. I suppose this is just basically appreciating the "what's in it for me" factor.

There was a HIMSS plenary speaker a few years back who said this:

Before vast transformational change can occur, we must first change the inherent reaction to new ideas.

If we can
say “Yes, if…” as opposed to “No, because…” when first talking about innovative ideas, a real possibility for change can develop.

Many people are quick to point out the
shortcomings of an idea or say that it wont work because
oddly enough, it makes too much sense.

If we can get people to say, “Yes, you could do that if” instead of “No, that will not work because” it changes the psychological dynamic of the argument.

If you present a
new idea and someone says “No”, you instinctively lose energy.

Now you’ve got to win an argument over the “No”
before you can get to the argument over the “Because”
before you even get to start talking positively.

However, if
someone says “Yes” you automatically gain energy and immediately start thinking of creative ideas to answer the questions posed by the complexity of new ideas.

It seemed to resonate with a lot of folks. 

I found that it is all about capturing risk and assumptions. People will commit, "say yes" when the "yes" is associated with known risks and assumptions. For example I will complete task Y by this date. My commitment is based on my current workload and on dependent tasks being completed on time. Knowing the risks and assumptions associated with each commitment/decision also aides in identification when the project or change is in jeopardy because as soon as an assumption becomes false action is needed and decisions need to be revisited.

Pete, you raised the question "Is your organizational culture predisposed to say 'no?' "

I found this article to be particularly helpful with that question.  Jump to page 8, Curing the Patient.