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Want to Succeed? Tell People to Stop Agreeing With You

Image via imanolqs/

Don’t agree with me. It’s annoying – and not helpful. At our firm we like to say “if you want yes people, don’t hire us.”  

But the truth is, I love when people agree with me.  It makes things easier. The problem is, it doesn’t necessarily make things better. 

Saying yes can be the easy way out.  We might say yes to:

  • Avoid having to do the hard work of figuring out what really needs to be done
  • Avoid dealing with someone we don’t want to deal with
  • Just get through something, check the box, and move on to the next thing
  • Eliminate what might end up looking like conflict (oh the dreaded “c” word)

The problem with these “I say yes when…” scenarios is they are cop-outs.  It could mean we just don’t want to do our jobs, do the hard work, or put the effort in to make something better, more useful, etc. 

Not saying yes is more difficult. It requires that we:

  • Turn our brains from being in simmer to full boil mode
  • Disrupt something already in motion that may be fine to let run its course (fine is boring)
  • Have to engage in new ideas, new thinking, new possibilities (oh, this takes effort)
  • Work with people we might rather not work with (horror of horrors!)

I realize that I love nothing more than when I ask someone for their opinion or their ideas and instead of agreeing with me they tell me what they really think.  It's refreshing.  Their candor  makes me come alive and I certainly lean in so I can listen. 

“Good lord, this person actually has something to say,” I think. “They are not just an automaton of ‘oh, that’s good, that’s nice, I like it, it looks fine.’” 

No wonder things are so out of whack all over the place.  Many of us are navigating courses full of pleasantries totally devoid of the juicy (albeit respectfully had) conversations where differences are explored, and alternate perspectives considered.

Now, some of you are saying that there are too many people who have no problem telling us what they really think, they have no tact, and are like the proverbial bull in the china shop.  I’m not talking about these folks.  I’m talking about getting the real deal, the real download, the real stuff from people who care, want to make a difference and who have some stake in having things be as good as they can be.  They are the ones that if you find out what they really think it could make a difference, make an impact, help that boring course you are on change directions and take you someplace worth going.

The problem is, you aren’t asking the right questions. Just for kicks and giggles, next time you are about to ask someone what they think about something, try tweaking your approach:  ask them what they like about X and what they don’t like or what they suggest you do differently.  Tell them you are bored by what everyone is telling you and looking for someone whose opinion is worth listening to, who isn’t afraid to shed the clothing of the “yes man/woman.” 

Oh, it’s so much more fun. 

Image via imanolqs/

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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