Managing Others: Just Say Yes.

Author J. Mike Smith is a executive, career, and leadership team coach, helping individuals, start-ups, teams and groups perform significantly better.

Most of the times a “no” means “no” and a “yes” means “yes.”

Then there are times though when that “yes” can mean “no.”

As I discovered recently, I should learn how to use that yes when I mean no more often.

If you haven’t, you might do well to learn it too.

When my neighbor Kathryn yelled over the fence (“Mike: there’s something we need to talk about”) I instinctively flinched.

Over the years that we’ve been neighbors she has let me know that our deck porch light was too bright (shines in my window and I don’t want to ruin the view with shades.), the drip sprinkler was untimely (I can hear it going off and it makes me want to get up out of bed.), our garbage cans were not removed from the sidewalk promptly enough (Did you know you can get ticketed if you don’t put them away the same day as pick-up?), and my 4 year old was too loud (Traylor, shut up!). Add vines in gutters, dog barking, alleged over watering of our yard as well as things I’ve repressed and the common pattern is one “suggestion” after another.

When she most recently complained that our 150 feet very healthy-looking cedar was teetering and about to fall on her house, we dutifully paid to have an arborist make a visit to confirm that in fact that tree was really healthy, and also have him “reduce its sail” – arbor speak for thinning its branches – to further mitigate the chance of anything unfortunate happening.

There are downsides to being earnest, along with lots of upsides. One that touches both is that you mean what you say, and say what you mean.

So when Kathryn started off last week by telling me the tree’s branches were hanging over  and endangering her house, I dutifully said that I’d have our new best friend the arborist see what he could do to cut the tip of the one or two branches that extended at most 1-2 feet into her airspace over the property line. The Iranian government has little edge over my neighbor when it comes to claiming presumed rights. With Kathryn I emailed her a photo showing that any tree incursion was minor at best: no vines in the gutters or skylight to boot.

What I should have said, as my barber Stephanie pointed out later that day is to say “Yes, I’ll get on it at once” and then define promptly silently to myself as in the next lifetime.

For folks like the Kathryns in the world, life is a series of demands to make on other people: acquiese to one pointless request and it only leads to another.

Far better to forget, and to be interminably stuck on the first request (I’m so sorry. Meant to get it done and it slipped my mind) then do the bidding of someone who seems to have too much time on their hands to identify lots of things you should do.

So sometimes, as I’ve learned, I need to say “yes” when I really mean “no.”

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