Are You Saying “Yes” Too Much?

Do you say “yes” too much? You probably know what it’s like. A colleague asks for help with a project and you end up doing a lot more than you planned. You agree to volunteer for a local event and then discover that it’s going to take a lot more time than you assumed. Maybe a friend asks you to help them move, especially if you have pick-up truck. Sound familiar?

At the end of each of these endeavors, you may have asked yourself, “Why did I say yes to THAT?” Or you may have said, “Never again!” Then you went ahead and said “yes” again anyway. But here’s the thing, all these incidental “yes’s” are contributing to the decision fatigue that drags you down.

So, why do you say yes when you kind of know that it’s going to cost more time and energy than you had figured? There are several reasons:

  • You want to be perceived as a nice person.
  • You might feel guilty if you don’t say yes.
  • You say “yes” because you want a feeling of belonging or to be part of something larger.
  • You’re paying it forward in hopes that others will return the favor.
  • You were caught off-guard and said “yes” before taking time to think.

There’s nothing wrong with saying, “yes.” I do it lots of times myself. But I have learned to stop and consider before agreeing impulsively. It is human nature to be accommodating when approached for a favor or participate in an activity. Sometimes saying, “No” can seem almost discourteous. But saying, “No,” may be the best decision you can make. Why? Here are a few reasons:

  1. You’re not the best person to make the decision or participate.
  2. Adding this task to your plate will interfere with or impair your effectiveness in accomplishing more critical responsibilities.
  3. The person asking may be just trying to “turf the task.”
  4. You’re just plain tired and need a legitimate break. (They’re aloud, you know.)

One of the ways effective decision-makers manage their energy and focus is by avoiding less- than-strategic commitments. “But how do you say no?” you might be asking. Here are three responses that help:

  • “Thanks for thinking of me. I just don’t think I’m the best match for this task.”
  • “At this point, I can’t really take on another responsibility. I trust you’ll understand.”
  • “You might approach _______________. I think she might have more interest.”

Notice this list does not include, “I’d love to help, but . .” This phrase telegraphs you are open to other opportunities. As a result, people will continue to approach you. Remember, you have every right to be selective about the decisions, tasks, and other responsibilities you take on unless, of course, they are assigned by the boss. Even in that case, there are tactics for more effectively managing the situation. But that’s a topic for another post.

The next time you’re tempted to say “yes,” take a few seconds to consider the request. Ask a couple of questions about what it would really involve. Perhaps you can say “yes” to part of it. Making this a consistent practice will save time, energy and relieve you of some the decision fatigue that diminishes your productivity and effectiveness.

How Many Exclamation Points Does It Take?

I was spending some time with a colleague in her home office. As we chatted, an email popped up on her screen with an exclamation point in the subject line. She glanced at it and then went back to talking with me.

“Aren’t you going to pay attention to that?” I asked. “It looks important. It’s got an exclamation point.”

“Oh,” she said. “I don’t take messages seriously until they get up around three or more exclamation points.”

“Tell me more,” I said.

“Well,” she said, “It’s like a priority system. One is normal communication. Two is probably something you should respond to. Three is, ‘Hey, this is important.’ Four and five are critical. Drop what you’re doing. And six or more is usually someone just pissed off about something.”

“How did this get started?” I asked.

“You see,” she said,” we had a manager who seemed to think that everything she sent was critical because she was the boss. So, everything she sent had one or more exclamation points. But after a while we all figured that out most of what she sent out wasn’t all that critical or timely. A few people started mocking her by sending out emails with exclamation points as well. It became kind of a joke and we all adapted.”

“Is she still in charge?” I asked. “Did she ever catch on?”

“Oh, no!” my colleague said. “She’s long gone and no, she never figured it out.”

“So why still do it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe it’s because we all think it’s a bit of fun. You just have to learn that if you come to work with us, you shouldn’t take anything seriously unless it has at least three exclamation points.”

So, what are the take-ways from all this? In a way, it’s like the boy who cried “wolf” so much that nobody took him seriously when there was a wolf. Or maybe the person who yelled “fire” in a crowded theater as a joke and scared the crap out of people. Neither is a good thing to do. The same thing can happen in the workplace. Sadly, the lack of professional maturity on the part of this previous leader unknowingly incited this practice and impaired the communication of the unit until people adapted to her beliefs and practices.

At the same time, this example demonstrates people’s ability to adapt to and read others. When everything is promoted as critical, nothing will be taken as critical. But this team took a step back and adjusted to this leader’s behavior. As a result, they rebalanced communication on their own. On top of this, they also found a bit of humor and perspective in what happened.

What can you learn from this example that will help you lead your team?

Has Fractionalization Distorted Our Decision Making?

Sixty years ago, Newton Minow, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, famously called television “a vast wasteland.” This was at a time when there were a total of three networks. On any given night, you could choose between the offerings on CBS, NBC or ABC. Period. Candid Camera host, Peter Funt, recently asked Mr. Minow his thoughts on the seemingly unlimited choices now presently available. I found his response rather insightful.

“Fractionalization of the audience provides more choice,” he said, “but we pay a big price. Our country now is much more divided because we don’t share the same news or believe the same facts. I used to think that providing more choice was in the public interest. But I’m not sure today.”

In other words, part of society’s present polarization is being caused by a population that no longer shares common interests based on media. Thirty years ago, for instance, people watched The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Then they discussed his monologue the next morning at the office. Now, on any given night, you can choose between more than a dozen late-night talk shows, all of which that have hosts projecting partisan political viewpoints, something Johnny was careful not to do.

Another television phenomenon of thirty years ago was “Who killed JR?” from the night-time drama, Dallas. People spent weeks arguing about who pulled the trigger. Why? Because millions were watching the show every Friday night. In essence, it created a sense of community. You could get on an elevator and ask the stranger next to you, “Who do you think shot J.R.?” and they would immediately get the reference. Today, there are so many choices from which to choose, we have balkanized ourselves into micro affinity groups. So, the chances of the elevator stranger watching the same thing you did last night are remote. Besides, we don’t talk to strangers. We bury our heads in our smart phones.

This fractionalization is not limited to today’s media. The same thing is true with pretty much every product, topic or issue. As a result, we have not just become fractionalized, but hyper-fractionalized. Without shared experiences, it becomes so much easier to hide behind the beliefs with which we feel comfortable. We seek out others who share those beliefs and avoid those who might have a different point of view. Digital algorithms enable all this, feeding us links and suggestions based on our past browser use, unless we periodically clear our cache and history.

The problem with this, of course, is that when we all retreat to our individual corners, we lose the perspective to make truly informed decisions. This is reinforced by the highly partisan politicians, activists, media and colleagues who choose to press their beliefs on others without remaining open to alternative points of view. The best decision-makers accept that their beliefs are not the only ones out there. They ask questions, knowing that the answers or opinions they receive in response may not be to their liking. But they accept that colleagues, friends and strangers can have diverging beliefs without being evil, hateful, stupid, or any one of a number of other invectives. Effective decision-making is the result of seeking out the best information, opening yourself to thoughtful discussion and acting knowing that you might be proven wrong.

Without discourse, we lose the freedom of speech upon which this nation was founded.