Say “no” in “yes, and…” VUCA world

by | Oct 12, 2014 | Blog | 0 comments

rope frayedThe improv world wants us to say “yes and….”

Yet, essentialists advise us to say “no” to everything that’s non-essential.

How do you strike a balance between these two camps?

Trying to do both simultaneously is like playing the game of tug of war with yourself. That was my reaction after reading back-to-back the books Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson and Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.

While improv has its place in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world), especially since any scripts we prepare in advance regularly require updating, there’s also a need for essentialism.

Essentialism, as McKeown defines it, is the “systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution toward the things that really matter.”

Essentialists focus their time, energy and resources on getting the right things done, rather than stretching themselves too thin.

And while it may be unrealistic to turn into an essentialist 100% of the time—especially if you’re working in an organization—it’s a noble way to pay attention and work on the vital few rather than the trivial many.

More than eight years ago, when I was editing the Lean Communicator® e-newsletter, I wrote an article entitled, Can you say “no” in any language?” which I’ve updated for today’s times.

Business then—and now—often prefers “yes” men and women to those who say nay.

And those of us who are afflicted with FOMO, the fear of missing out, also have trouble saying “no.”

Yet a well-planned and well-rehearsed non, nein or nãor can save you a lot of wasted resources—both in the short and long-term. By eliminating waste, you’ll have more time and resources to add real value—which is the goal of being lean.

But how do you muscle up the nerve to say the n-word, especially to a senior executive or other leader—and even to yourself.

Follow these five steps.

1. Make sure you you’re crystal clear about your purpose in the organization, as well as the organization’s purpose. As several speakers asked at the 2014 Neuroleadership Summit last week, “What game are you playing?”

2. Next, ask what position you’re playing. To continue the game analogy, if your organization is playing offense in its industry and going after market share, your actions will be different than if the organization is in a defensive mode cutting costs, regardless of the specific game.

3. If you’re in a support or enabling function, be sure to articulate your position for others. Don’t let people guess. Then, further define and describe what’s “in-scope” and “out-of-scope” to make the situation as crystal clear as possible.

For instance, for one organization I worked with, we created a series of questions, including: Does the proposed action that needs support directly relate to the company’s major business goals? Does the proposed action benefit multiple business units or multiple stakeholders? Is there a high risk to the company if something were to go wrong? If the answer was “yes,” the project was in-scope, and the corporate function would get involved.

If the answer was no, the corporate function would help find resources.

4. Set aside time to think and reflect, regardless of your role. Situations and priorities change while relationships, especially inside organizations, remain important. Just remember McKeown’s advice: “If it isn’t a clear ‘yes,’, then it’s a clear ‘no’.”

 5. If the answer is “no” and you’re not yet ready to say “no” with conviction to requests, especially those that are out-of-scope, practice doing and saying:

  • Do you have a budget for this?
  • We don’t have the resources right now to meet your expectations. Can we help you find resources to help you?
  • What other resources are you considering besides me/us?

Then, help that individual find other sources for help, which will be easier if budget is available. If not, consider spending a few minutes brainstorming some ideas.

If saying ‘no,” is still difficult, you may want to read the 2007 book The Power of a Positive No: Save the Deal, Save the Relationship—and Still Say No, by William Ury, the cofounder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation.

By saying ‘no,” you free up time, space and energy to accomplish more things that matter.

And over time, you may be able to turn your FOMO into JOMO—the joy of missing out. I’m definitely not there yet, but check in with me in a month after my experience with the Awareness Academy X.

How are you managing the tug of war between “no” and “yes”?


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