no means yes

When ‘No’ Means ‘Yes’ 

Isn’t it funny how people hear what they want to hear?  I was talking to a friend last week discussing a film we had both watched – and I asked her if she remembered the bit where they were talking about their friends, but I thought they were really talking about themselves and their relationship.   

She looked at me funny and said, ‘No Julie, they were talking about their fears from their childhood because….”.  I don’t know if either of us was “right” and it doesn’t really matter, but I thought it was interesting, how we both listened to the same words and made them mean entirely different things.  

The phenomena that happens here is a bit like the reason why you should never edit your own letters, blogs, book or anything else you write.  Because you will miss the mistake, because you read what you expect to read.   

In the same way, when someone says something to you, you interpret that in your own world view, and not necessarily how it was intended.  I have a friend who never emails important internal messages anymore, because she is very direct, and her staff think she is criticising them on email. Face to face she can explain what she means. 

Well, a similar thing has been a problem for a client of mine.  He is the CTO of a successful company and as “the technical person” he comes out of every meeting with a list of action points that he never remembers agreeing to.   It is assumed by the others round the table that he will do them as that ‘is his sphere’.   

He THINKS he has made it clear that he is NOT going to do them, or he hasn’t the time to do them, or it is really not his core skill, but he seems to end up with them anyway.  

I asked if he really had said no to his peers, and he wasn’t entirely sure he actually had.   

Perhaps in the past he always said yes, and so they continue to expect to hear ‘yes’ from him and don’t take his ‘well I really don’t think I can do that’, as a NO.  They take it as – he might have to find a way to do it, but he WILL do it.   

Perhaps you have this problem in your life?  Do you have people to whom you think you have said NO, who think that means Yes?  If so, feel free to use the same advice I gave my CTO client (Chief Technical Officer).  

  1. Clarify what has been said before you leave the meeting.  
  2. Ask THEM (whoever they are for you), what they think the actions are.  
  3. Specifically ask something like “Tell me your understanding of what needs to happen next” 

These questions give you the opportunity to clarify what everyone is thinking – including YOU.  It gives you the chance to correct misunderstandings or create new understandings of WHO is doing what and by when.  It is much harder to say NO if you leave the meeting and then go back to them later.  

Retrain your colleagues to expect you not to say yes to everything, just because you didn’t say “No”, or they didn’t hear you say “No”.  

If you need any help with having those kinds of discussions (and let’s face it – it can be nerve wracking if you are not used to being so direct) then drop me a mail to [email protected]  

3D Leadership – dynamically enhancing the results of your business’™

At Transforming Performance, we believe that there are 6 crucial areas of Leadership: focus and direction, mindset, engagement, skills, impact and systems.

Transforming Performance can help with our Accelerate Your Business™ and Accelerate Solo™ programmes.

Julie Hutchison is co-Director with Jan Sargent of Transforming Performance, a consultancy which provides businesses with expert support in Leadership Coaching, Team Development and Performance Coaching, Executive Coaching, Mentoring, Training and Behavioural Profiling and help in getting the best from you and your people. If you’d like to have a chat and a coffee to discuss how we can help you, we’d love to talk. Call us on:

01722 484155 or 07947 823842

[email protected]




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