E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

How To Say No … When Defaulting To Yes!

Tenerife - Mount Teide & Los Roques de GarciaEarlier on this year, while at Lotusphere 2012 and at IBM Connect in Orlando, Florida, I had the unique opportunity and great pleasure to finally attend live a keynote session from the one and only Guy Kawasaki. As you can imagine, I had very high expectations about being wowed by someone who i have admired all along and whose books I keep constantly going back to in order keep learning more and more about a good number of different topics, specially, those related to social business. Well, that keynote was probably *the* best 20 minutes spent on attending any live session I have had in the last few years. I was certainly not disappointed a single bit! And I wasn’t the only one thinking that way, apparently. No surprise. In fact, just those 20 minutes made the entire week worth while! Eventually, it’s all about “Defaulting to yes!“.

In that keynote session Guy talked about plenty of really good tips on how to enchant your audiences, whether in real life or virtually, about your own product(s), whatever that may well be. This presentation in Slideshare covers some of the major items he talked about, although it’s not the actual presentation he used. But still equally helpful. One of those key messages he shared along was that one of always defaulting to yes! Basically, meaning the following, as Mitra Sorrells beautifully captured on a recent blog entry under the title “9 Tips From Guy Kawasaki on How to Use Social Media to “Enchant” Customers“:

Default to a “yes” attitude. “Think to yourself, I will do what this person asks; I will be happy to do it; I will probably say yes even before they ask, even before I know what they are going to ask me to do. Always be thinking, ‘how can I help the other person,’” Kawasaki said

Very powerful message, indeed, which clearly resonates with the whole mantra behind living social, i.e. helping others excel at what they are already doing without asking for anything in return. That’s, usually, how networks and communities operate in the open Social Web at the moment. But then again, and I am sure you would all agree, at some point in time, it’s bound to fail. Why? Well, mostly because, as we, human beings, tend to do with almost everything out there, we keep abusing such good will and good hearted mentality of wanting to help others by answering yes to everything to the point where people will keep taking advantage of it all, even if it starts harming people’s own productivity. It’s just as if we don’t see it and just care for getting that help without thinking much about the potential consequences we over-impose on others.

And perhaps till now we couldn’t do much about it, since we all know that we always find it incredibly tough to keep saying No to people. It just doesn’t happen. We are not natural at it, as we keep thinking, considering and pondering some more the potential consequences from that “No, thanks!”. You know, who wants to hurt someone else’s feelings by rejecting and saying “No!” to their offer, whatever that may well be? Probably no-one, right?

Well, here’s where we can all feel incredibly grateful to Dan Pink after a recent, rather thought provoking, blog post he put together under the suggestive title “How to say No . . . especially to things you want to do“, which is some really fascinating read on the power of saying No, but, most importantly, on how to do it well and feel good about it, without that sense of guilt that we are all far too familiar with.

And still keeping that flavour that Guy mentioned about always defaulting to yes! How can that be, right? Well, Dan explains it very nicely as perhaps one of our biggest challenges for this century; one for which it’s going to be rather tough to find a really good answer that would be applicable to everyone: “How do we say no to things we want to do?

Yes, I know, how can we possibly answer that question and still feel good about it? Well, perhaps we need to look into two things that can help already venture a potential solution, or a good direction for it altogether anyway. Think about productivity for a minute. Think about your own productivity and effectiveness for the work you do. Think now how if you keep defaulting to yes to everything that you would want to do, while helping others, would eventually mean that you would have very little time to look after your own productivity. And in the end you may fall behind. So, in a way, you need to be the first one self-protecting your own interests before reaching out to others to help them. As Elizabeth Gilbert mentions on Dan’s blog entry, you need to start becoming your own bodyguard for the work you do, because there may well be a good chance that no-one else would be able to do it for you.

And that’s where the second element of the equation kicks in, which Dan also addresses beautifully with this insightful quote:

I wouldn’t want to return to a world of limited options and pricey information any more than I’d like to return to a world of scarce, expensive calories. But I think we all need a little help dealing with our new circumstances and saying no to things that we want to do

Indeed, I think Dan pretty much nails it when talking about how you can succeed when saying “No!” to not just the things you don’t want to do, but also the things you would want to, but can’t: get some extra help from others. That is, help others understand that as much as you would want to help out, default to yes, and participate in their initiatives and projects you may not be capable of doing so, for whatever the reason, and it’s totally fine to say no and feel good about it. No-one is going to look up at you and claim you haven’t helped them accordingly. It’s going to be a constant exercise of helping set the expectations of how far you can stretch yourself out without having to invoke that self bodyguard to protect you and your own productivity.

And just like good, regular and constant exercise is good for burning those unnecessary calories and fat, so will it be setting up the right expectations on your willingness to help out others achieving their goals. it’s not going to be a matter of just plainly saying no, but more along the lines of helping people understand that some times it will work, and how some other times it won’t. And that’s just fine. It’s just a matter of adjusting expectations, your commitment to help others, and, finally, put a stop on abusing people’s innate willingness to help out while killing their own productivity in the end. At the end of the day, it’s all about respecting and fully understanding the productivity of others and, in return, they will respect yours accordingly. And, believe me, that’s then when great things will come up!

So, what do you think? How do you say no to the things you would want to do while keeping up with your own productivity and effectiveness in the context of that mantra of always defaulting to yes without losing your sanity? An oxymoron right there? Utopian altogether? The 21st century chimera? I would love to know and find out more about it in the comments how you get around it…

0 votes


  1. Hi Suarez,

    Keep up the wonderful blogging!

    The way I see it you actually say yes by making it clear when you can’t help due to time or other constraints.

    Let me elaborate on that:
    First of all you give your full attention to the person who asks you to do something. You take the person and his or her request serious. This in itself is a “yes”-attitude.

    Secondly if you would say “yes” like you mean it, but can’t deliver that’s worse than saying “no” after taking the request seriously. Transparency and honesty are the key-words. 1 bad review has a rather large effect by means of social media nowadays.

    Some last thoughts:
    On a practical level I would say to reserve some time on a daily basis to do at least 1 thing that isn’t part of your job description. In the end you don’t want to get sloppy on your targets, but do want to be a person who’s in the “yes” mode.

    1. Hi Sander! Many thanks for the kind comments and for the feedback input! Greatly appreciated all of these tips! Absolutely! Active listening and with intent is, indeed, a “Yes!” on its own already! And I surely agree with you with how awful it looks to continue moving along with that “Default to yes!” to then find out you can’t deliver and disappoint everyone. Listening is a very good start, but just as much as stating up front whether you can help or not understanding there are limitations as to how much we can all commit to. Understanding and respecting those limitations is what’s key over here. Some times it will work, some other times it won’t and people need to be ok with that.

      “Yes” mode cannot be ignored, but so can’t your daily job, since, after all, that’s the one that keeps paying the bills! 🙂 And surely agree with your tip of every day do something that’s not part of your work duties. It’s about being exposed to a refreshing new perspective that you may not be aware of, but that it could develop into something really cool and worth while!

      Thanks again for the comments and for the great feedback! Glad the post was useful! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *