Yes man

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeffrey Voetberg
  • 12th Missile Squadron commander
In the movie Yes Man, Jim Carrey's character is transformed by a self-help guru who challenges him to say yes to everything. Comedy ensues when the character says yes to everything from infomercials to a jogging photography class. I am not going to suggest we all need to buy a Tempur-Pedic mattress from the TV, but I will show the power of yes, in both responses to our bosses and in our goal setting, all without becoming a "yes man."

All of us have received taskings from our bosses or requests from our coworkers. Frequently they are relatively simple and fit in the scope of our normal duties. Sometimes they are unusual or involve a significant change to the way we normally do business. In other cases, the boss is exploring different alternatives to a problem. Here is where we discover the power of "yes." An affirmative response, even if it is conditional, will set a tone of cooperation. "Yes, if ..." can convey the same meaning as "no, because" but does so in a spirit of partnership rather than confrontation.

The conditional "if" is used to communicate the cost of the request or establish the conditions necessary before the task can be completed. For example, you may be working on a hot paper for your boss when she or he stops by to ask you to cover a meeting. Replying "yes, if you're ok with this paper being a bit late" actually communicates more information than a frustrated "no, I'm already working this hot paper you gave me," because it allows the boss to weigh the costs of the new request. The boss can decide if having you at the meeting is worth a late paper. Similarly, the "yes, if ..." can outline what else is required to make the request happen. Your boss might ask for your opinion on changing the inventory system. Here "yes, if we had some money and if headquarters would relax the requirements in the AFI" shows who else is involved in the change and suggests some next steps. Also, it does so without the negativity and adversarial "no way."

The power of yes is not limited to replies to requests or questions. You may have heard the trick "don't think of a blue elephant." What that demonstrates is the power of mind to focus on an object. When you phrase goals in the affirmative, the mind is then focused on a positive result. Consider the difference between two goals: "reduce accidents by 50 percent" and "improve safety by 50 percent." They are functionally identical, but the focus is different. In the first case you are saying "no" to accidents. In the second, you are saying "yes" to safety. When you tell yourself "I've got to stop eating cookies" you spend the day thinking about cookies. Instead, say yes with the goal "I'm going to eat more veggies today." Put the focus on the positive.

A focus on "yes" in response to a task and in goal settings does not mean you agree with everything your boss says. What it does is allow you to disagree without being disagreeable. We all still have the responsibility to express the truth as we know it so our supervisors can make well-informed decisions. Further, it does not mean we should not work to eliminate the less-than-helpful habits we have developed. We should still try to better ourselves and our organizations, but we can do these things in a positive an affirming way.

Jim Carrey's character soon discovers the limits of saying yes to everything. Nevertheless, the results from saying yes - especially a conditional yes - in response to tasks and questions, and a positive focus in goal setting, can be an effective tool. Try it next time you want to say "no." Send me your "yes" stories; I'd love to hear them.