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?

Bagels and the Science of Self-Discipline

It had become a ritual for me to begin my day in a coffee shop writing blog posts like this. I would buy a bottomless cup of coffee along with a bagel and cream cheese. The staff at several different shops knew me by name. It was a deeply ingrained habit if there ever was one. Of course, a bagel with cream cheese 250 times a year catches up with you. If you’ve been doing this for more than 30 years, like I have, your metabolism starts to punish you by draining your energy and focus by 10AM.

This is not unlike the other habits we all develop over time, out of convenience, desire, or wanting to belong. (“Everybody else does it.”) The brain, of course, develops a well ingrained neuropathway for each one of these habits that reminds you to do it every day at a particular time and in a particular way. In fact, it creates a sense of discomfort if you don’t complete this task. Develop enough of these neuropathways, and you become a victim of this jumble of habits, most of which cost money, drain energy and waste time.

So how do you break this costly momentum? By doing three essential things: 1) Replace the old with the new, 2) Change your self-talk and 3) Change your surroundings. Ironically, in my case, it was the third strategy that came first. When every coffee shop in the world shut down abruptly this year, I had no choice but to change my surroundings. I didn’t eliminate bagels from my diet, but I did eliminate cream cheese. Did you know a dry bagel’s not bad once you’ve had a few. I also started telling friends and colleagues that I limit myself to a dry bagel and a banana between breakfast and lunch. When you say something like that enough, you begin to reprogram your thinking and, as a result, your habits. (This worked well with, “I love salads,” a number of years ago.)

Now, you might be thinking, “I know all this. I can change if I want to.” Okay, I’ll stipulate that. But what costly habits have you actually succeeded in changing? Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to list them. Lest you think I’m being preachy, I face the same challenge. Like you, I can be really good at listing the reasons why I should be doing this or that right now. But then time slips away and it’s suddenly the next year.

So, what’s one habit you can replace over the next thirty days with something more productive? Remember, limit your plan to one habit at a time, otherwise the stress of doing so will defeat your efforts. Anticipate the initial discomfort you’ll experience and reframe it. It will diminish over time. And change your surroundings. It is environmental cues that subtly remind us of these destructive routines. Finally, spread the word. Tell your friends and family what you’re doing and ask them to hold you accountable. Offer to do the same for them some time. We all need the support.

The Attributes of an Empowered Employee

Every day, each employee you supervise makes hundred decisions to order to resolve problems and complete tasks. Most are routine and have been executed many times before. This repetition becomes the mastery that’s necessary to navigate the daily work. Then there are those unexpected obstacles that can disrupt your momentum. We all fear making a wrong decision at times, even though we pretty much knew what to react. Most of us possess the confidence move on to a successful solution.

Some people, however, struggle to adapt. Some of this apprehension can be attributed to a lack of confidence to solve problems and make decisions. So, how can you help these individuals develop this confidence? The effort comes down to one word — empower.

The best performers in any work environment exude confidence. They fully believe they are capable of dealing with whatever issue comes up. What does it mean to feel empowered? First, it’s the ability to discern. This means examining the elements of a situation, evaluating what needs to be accomplished and determining the necessary steps. The ability to discern evolves over time as the result of trial and error.

Second, feeling empowered is the ability to manage uncertainty. Uncertainty produces discomfort. Top performers become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Any significant decision involves some uncertainty.

Third, people who feel empowered possess the confidence to recover from what goes wrong. Some decisions don’t work out. Top performers accept that you don’t go through life making the perfect decision every time. When things go wrong, they take a step back, evaluate what happened, and come up with an alternative.

Fourth, empowerment is the confidence to act independently. The best decision-makers take the initiative without asking for permission. They examine the environment for what needs to be done. They think three and four steps ahead. Because of this, they are more likely to be rewarded with positive outcomes. They have a sense of perspective in situations that others may find overwhelming.

The element that connects all of these attributes is confidence. More of society is focusing on blame these days when something goes wrong. As a result, more people hesitate before making decisions They don’t want to suffer embarrassment if a decision goes wrong. In the process, they seek permission before acting, even if they are clear on what to do. This is especially true of those just entering workplace.  So, how can you help people feel empowered? Here are three tactics to try:

Begin by providing clear parameters – Each time you delegate a responsibility, ask the person to explain the instructions back to you. While they’ll get most of it right, you’ll probably find gaps in their understanding. Go back and review what they missed. Reinforce the concept with a bit of practical application. This encourages them to ask questions. Remember, asking “What questions do you have?” is more effective than asking, “Do you have any questions?” Asking “what” lets them know that questions are expected.

Provide the authority – Sometimes, we delegate responsibility and just assume the person understands the parameters about spending money, making exceptions and so forth. Then we become frustrated when they ask lots of questions. Instead, express authority using these three steps:

  • First, explain that they may feel some uncertainty about making these decisions, at least initially. You might say something like, “You’re probably going to feel a little uncomfortable making these decisions at first. I know I did. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back.” This will ease their concern.
  • Second, provide examples of the decisions where they may hesitate. Show them the process for resolving them. If you have worked this job in the past, make a list of the typical decisions you made and explain how you made them. Create a matrix or cheat sheet they can consult when they’re working independently.
  • Third, step back and watch what happens. It is a natural urge to jump in when you see someone about to make a mistake. Resist that temptation. If they begin to believe that someone will save them every time something is about to go wrong, they will become fearful of acting or become careless.

Reinforce the process – Rehearsing and reinforcement are critical. Some people will embrace these principles right away. Others will take more time. This is generally more about emotion than intellect. In other words, they understand what they’re supposed to do, but uncertainty is holding them back. How do you get them to do this? Try these tactics:

  • Tell them that you understand their apprehension. Everybody’s been there. Reinforce that you’ve got their back. If something goes wrong, you’ll work together with them to resolve the situation.
  • Work with them on each of the processes they need to master. A good way to do this is by posing situations and case studies, based on their experiences and your experiences.
  • Observe as they start to implement. Check in periodically, but be careful not to make the decision. It is a good sign when they start pushing you away, because they have built the confidence to act on their own.

When the people around you feel empowered, they will make smarter decisions and feel inspired to work confidently and independently.


Getting to Neutral

“Often, I lie in wait in meetings, like a hunter looking for his prey, ready to spring out at the first moment of silence. My gun is loaded with preestablished thoughts. I take aim and fire, the context irrelevant, my bullet and its release are all that matter to me.” William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together – MIT Professor

This quote reminds me of how often I want to leap into response mode when having a conversation with someone. I know I’m supposed to wait for them to complete their thought. But it’s just so tempting to finish their thought for them or offer an opposing point because I think I know what they’re going to say. I hate it when someone does this to me. So, I try not to do it to someone else.

The same thing is true of making decisions. Our lives are full of perceptions and biases. We leap to conclusions without having the entire picture. We think we know the answer. Perhaps someone is pushing us to act. Maybe we want to be the leader because the leaders are the ones who make the decisions. In essence, our impatience and desire for control get the better of us. Then we feel regret when the outcome is not what we expected. The reason for this is that we’re missing a step in our rush to make the decision. We need to get to neutral, first.

Getting to neutral means taking time to make sure we clearly understand the decision to be made before rushing to act. It means asking two questions: 1) What’s the real decision that needs to be made and; 2) What biases do I have about the situation and people involved that may misguide my thinking?  Too often, we think we know what decision needs to be made in a particular situation because we’ve been in that situation before. But is it really? Taking to clarify this can make the difference between a good decision and a bad one. We also need to consider how past experiences and perception may color our thinking. This doesn’t mean making a big list necessarily. It could mean simply taking a step back to consider the feelings and thoughts that could be distorting your logic.

You might ask, “Where does this intersect with intuition? After all, intuition is based on past experiences and our biases and perceptions are a product of experience and what we’ve heard from others.” Yes, intuition is something the best decision makers rely on all the time. But they also take time to approach decisions with clarity and awareness about any personal influences they may be bringing to the process. No one can eliminate these influences. Acknowledging them is generally enough. (If you can’t do that, maybe you should recuse yourself from making the decision.)

Getting to neutral doesn’t take a lot of time. But having the presence of mind to do it before making decisions will save you and others the heartburn of misguided decisions.

Rehearsal: One of the Essentials to Effective Decision Making

Like most people, I have been known to act without thinking. But there are consequences. As the saying goes, good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment. What the best decision makers discover over time is that there is an essential collection of strategies enabling us to act with more clarity and confidence, resulting in better outcomes. One of these strategies is rehearsing what you’re going to say before approaching someone about a particular decision.

Last week, for example, I went online to see if I could improve on the phone plan my family and I pay for each month. Unfortunately, the company website was so confusing, I gave up trying to use it. That left me with going to the local store and chatting with a salesperson. Like many, however, I’ve become wary of talking with most sales representatives. But since sometimes there is no alternative, I’ve learned to prepare in advance.

I began by answering my favorite decision-making question, “What will success look like?” The more of a detailed vision I can create up front, the better chance I have of achieving that vision. In this particular case it was an unlimited plan for less money. Once I had a clear vision of the outcome, I printed out screenshots of the webpages offering the plan I desired, along with the ones that had confused me. (For instance, “How come when I click on the offer for $35 per line for four lines, the total on the next page comes out as $249? The taxes can’t be that much.”)

Once I had my questions prepared and my “evidence” printed out, I rehearsed the questions I had prepared out loud a couple of times to make sure I could explain myself clearly and confidently. When I got to the store, the conversation went remarkably well, probably because I appeared confident and well prepared. So what was the result of this two minutes of additional preparation?

First, I was clear on the desired outcome. This enabled me to better prepare for an encounter with the salesperson. Second, I was more confident. Not only did I feel well prepared, I had taken a minute to rehearse what I was going to ask to make sure I got it right. Third, I was rewarded with my clearly defined outcome —  a phone bill that is now $50 less per month and allows for unlimited data.

Now, you might say, “Sure, I know all this.” But do you implement this kind of process consistently? I’m just sayin’.

The Final Word on Multitasking

The debate about whether multitasking improves performance has been going on for more than a decade. Those on one side, maintain that their ability to do two, three, or even four things at once gives them an edge on the day. Those on the other side, argue that focusing on one task at a time produces a better outcome for each endeavor.

Based on interviews with hundreds of decision makers and my own experience, I’ve come down on the one-task-at-a-time side. In reviewing some brain science research, I have become even more convinced that those who claim to successfully multi-task are really deceiving themselves.

Neuroscientist, Daniel J. Levitan, author of is crestor prescription or over the counter essay on philosophers compare viagra costs 50 mg fibroblast collagen essay cytotec aborto sangrado por help with homework answers best essay tips writer position cover letter body language argumentative essay alcohol on college campuses essay go here levitra over the counter bertrand russell essay idleness se puede mezclar viagra con licor clomid and pcos cycle research papers on air pollution creative writing worksheets adults case study report apa format hydrocodone by mail order canada cheap business plan writer for hire for masters purchase contrast and comparison essay site computer science thesis pdf lipitor and bladder cancer see url get link The Organized Mind, explains it this way: “Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.”

Levitan goes on to say that, “Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel we need to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented even after a short time.”

Relatedly, Torkel Klingberg, M.D., Phd., author of The Overflowing Brain, observes, “How well we manage to multi-task can be related to the information load on working memory. Often, we can do the tasks if one of them is automatic, such as walking. For an activity to be designated “automatic,” it no longer demands any activation of the frontal lobes. However, a working memory task can never be automatic, as the information it contains always has to be encoded through the continual activation of the frontal and parietal lobes. This is why it can be so difficult to do two working memory tasks at once.” In other words, you can’t attend to more than one task at the same time.

There are those who will argue that regardless of the research, they have no choice but to multi-task. “It’s the only way I can keep up,” they’ll say. Or, “My boss claims she does it and expects everyone else to do the same.” Those people have my sympathy. Well established beliefs die hard. But as Levitan puts it, “You’d think people would realize that they’re bad at multitasking and would quit. But a cognitive illusion sets in, fueled in part by at dopamine-adrenaline feedback loop, in which multitaskers think they are doing great.”

So, if you can’t multi-task, how do you keep up? By focusing on one task at a time to completion or until you can’t progress due to a missing element, resource or decision. Yes, that requires concentration and the discipline to resist the temptations to do more. How do the best decision makers do this? I’ll cover that in the next post.

Do You Really Trust Your People to Make Good Decisions?

Businessman With A Jigsaw Puzzle

The former owner of an automobile dealership told me recently that he initiated a $750 “customer spend” for his organization. When I expressed curiosity, he went on to explain that he authorized everyone in the firm to spend as much as $750 to make sure a customer was happy if an issue arose. This could range from the receptionist buying coffee for a couple delayed because of a service mistake to a salesperson throwing in a new set of floor and trunk mats because he thought it would close the deal. All of this could be done without checking with a manager.

When I expressed a bit of surprise, he said, “Look at the big picture. It empowered everyone to act on the customer’s behalf. It impressed the customers that we trusted the employees and it instilled a belief in the employees that we trusted them. Besides, it was rare that anyone spent more than $50. In fact,” he continued, “we had to encourage them to use this resource when it made sense. Our customer service ratings, by the way, went through the roof.”

This strategy is not new. You’ve probably heard about it before. Maybe you’ve experienced it as a customer. But too often it fails because those encouraged to use it are fearful that they’ll get into trouble for really doing so. Its effective implementation has to come from a place of trust – your trust in your people. That means the authorized spend needs to be large enough to be meaningful. You have to embrace its use and you have to demonstrate that it has an impact on customers. So how do you implement this idea successfully?

Introduce it in a meaningful way. Begin with the big picture. Why $750 in a dealership? Because the customer is spending tens of thousands of dollars over time. Adjust for your customer’s average spend. In a restaurant, it might be $100 for instance. Provide examples such as why one situation warrants a bit of spending when something similar does not. But don’t get too specific with the examples or your people will stop using their reasoning and try to follow the “rules.” It’s better that they make an attempt and spend too much than not try out of fear.

Reinforce its use. Make it a regular topic at meetings. Celebrate the employees who use this strategy to save a customer relationship. Process with those who seem hesitant to execute. Their hesitation may be costing you customers.

Hire people who understand the perspective. Make this strategy a part of your interview process. Provide applicants with a tough customer service scenario and the opportunity spend some money to make it right. If they are apprehensive about using it, they may lack the confidence to thrive in your workplace. Comments like, “That’s a lot of money,” or Wow, how can you do that?” are signals that they probably have too limited a perspective.

Daily decisions on the job require reason. Reason requires trust – trust in yourself and trust in those supervising you. Implement this strategy in your firm and watch this trust skyrocket.

This is What You Do to Filter Daily Decisions


We can strategize all day about how to make the best decisions. But when there are too many on the plate it’s only natural to just make a decision, any decision, and move on. That may be fine for routine issues. Not so for the bigger problems and projects. What you have to do is make decisions about the decisions to be made. This requires a step back, a sense of detachment and a little courage. Allow me to explain.

In Figure It Out!, I list the “5Cs” of problem solving. The first “C” stands for clarify the problem. The most important question to ask when seeking clarity is “What does success look like?” In other words, take a step back, look at the bigger picture and envision your desired outcome. But another consideration on that list is “What’s the gravity of this problem.” Should you be making this decision? Is it worth your time? How much time will it consume? How much think time will it involve? You get the idea. Taking a step back provides some clarity about the important of this decision in the larger context. That brings us to detachment.

If you’re conscientious, as I know you are, it’s easy to feel that you need to decide everything. But, that’s being a control freak. Smart decision makers are not control freaks. They prioritize, they delegate and sometimes they just don’t do anything. They also do it with detachment. That’s the key to remaining sane when you’re feeling overwhelmed. This brings us to courage.

I know . . . You might be saying, “That’s easy for you to say. But you don’t understand. I’m essential to every decision or the world will end, my boss will fire me, and someone will stamp ‘Loser’ across my Facebook profile.” If I may be a bit profane . . . B.S. There’s no way I can convince you to act with courage. That’s something that comes from inside. But here’s the deal . . . effective decision makers succeed by having courage. How about you?

You can come up with a matrix to prioritize all your decisions. You can analyze until you can’t see straight. But when all is said and done, you still have to take a step back, think with detachment and act with courage.