John Nolan is running the last session of the day (for me, anyway) - when was "yes" the wrong answer? What happens when you say no, and how can you say it effectively? Looks like an interactive session, no there likely won't be many notes here :)
First exercise - we paired off and shared anecdotes about projects where "no" would have been the right answer at some point (guess which one I used?) So why can yes be wrong?
- negative outcomes in mid to long terms
- compromised responsibilities
- project planning treated as negotiation
- unchalleneged assent
- inappropriate assumption of competence
- honesty gap
- teaching the customer to say no if they don't know how
- punished by rewards (bad incentives)
- yes as a habit
- "we can't say no now" - too much committed to project
- status/position prevents assessment
So why is no difficult? Going back to pairs to discuss why "no" didn't happen.
- the need to be the "go to guy"
- pressure to "get on with it"
- positional (rather than principles) based negotiation
- fear of saying no (fear of consequences, real or imagined)
- reputation for negativity (boy who cries wolf)
- social stigma (not a team player)
- embarassment/social interaction
- avoiding confrontation/controversy
- not empowered
- "once is not enough" - must repeat instead of once and feeling you have done your duty
- cultural expectations
- no is an absolute, while yes is (can be) variable
- charismatic people can be difficult to say no to
- as a project manager, fear that a "no" will be seen as a personal failure (especially around cancellation)
- fear that some/all of team may take the blame
The pressure to say yes: personal examples and group examples (another exercise).
The evils of "win-win" - the book "Getting to Yes" being an example:
- emotional compromise
- avoidance of conflict at all points
- ubiquitous, unchallenged, accepted attitude
- "yes" seen as the goal - seeking agreement rather than solution
John recommends (not with complete agreement) a book: "Start with No".
So getting back from a break, what happens when you say no - Immediate:
- delays, long discussions
- increased complexity
- pressure to go back to "yes"
- emotional reactions/black mail
- increased/improved authority/influence
- decreased authority/influence
- lowered or raised risk
- improved or reduced communications
- improved or worsened relationships
- curiousity as to final result (mostly for external consultants who leave)
- can cause redundency
- improved influence/respect
- loss of respect
- "the world did not end"
- increased openess/better future confidence going forward
- business survival prospects improved (saying no to bad business)
- lingering bitterness
One group conclusion: most of the short term consequences/reaction are negative, but the long term ones work out positively. A photo of the discussion:
So what's wrong with saying no: I think it can be summed up with conflict avoidance, and the risk that you might not be right.
"It's not what you do, it's the way you do it" To sum up: How do we do it?
- get them to say no for you - walk them through the argument, draw it out until they reach the same conclusion (or, possibly they convince you that they are right after all)
- explain consequences
- influence with "because" techniques
Make sure you have enough information to make a decision. If not, defer. However, make sure you start getting the information you need. Avoid passive/aggressive behavior - there's a difference between options and procrastination :)
When you do have to say no:
- make it personal: take responsibility
- keep it short - and make sure it comes out as no
- prepare for the likely/possible outcomes
- making it personal does not mean making it confrontational
- remember that you likely don't have common goals
- make sure you understand what the question you are answering actually is
- when in doubt, say no. You can always change to yes later (the reverse is hard)
- have empathy, and be honest