The power of a resounding NO!

September 24, 2007 at 10:55 am 3 comments

I’m a bright lad. Honest! But even with this as a given, if you give me a set of instructions, then the chances are better than good that I won’t understand exactly what you meant. It’s not that either of us are terrible at communicating, it’s that communicating is terribly difficult.

We do our best to ensure that what we understand is what the other person meant to say. The strategy we use most often is asking for confirmation. We repeat back, or rephrase what we were asked to do, with the goal of getting a nod of agreement. The person we’re speaking with, is expecting this approach and is all too eager to agree that we’ve ‘got it’… then they can get on with their next task. It’s a small room version of Groupthink.

If you want to see an example of how this might arise take a look at Jiggler #4 and the two possible answers.

One of the most common reasons for a breakdown in communications is the unstated assumption. Something I take so much for granted that I don’t even think it’s worth while mentioning. Read the Jiggler above and see if you can figure out the unstated assumption before you read the answer. It’s not obvious, and that’s the problem.

So? What strategy can we use to better our communication? Seeking agreement on understanding is subject to the problem of both of us seeking/desiring agreement, so is there an alternative strategy? Sure, but it’s a peculiar one.

Seek disagreement. Try to restate your understanding of the problem/project in such a way that it ‘agrees’ with all the obvious facts, and push the boundaries on everything else.

In the Jiggler we’re using as an example… could we use pack animals, women, children? How much time can we take? Do people have to live through this adventure? (That one was covered)

Once you can get someone to state “No! That’s not what I meant!” then you’ve gained a bit of information much more valuable than a mere nod of the head.


Entry filed under: Communicating, Communications, Delegating, Leaders, Leadership, Management, Managing, Project Management.

Beating Murphy down Making Pigs Fly

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Colm Brannigan  |  September 24, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    so why are we so reluctant to say “no”?

  • 2. craigprice  |  September 24, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    Colm – I think it’s because we’ve been conditioned that no is a bad thing. When we were children, we were told no alot.
    Can I have this?
    Can I eat that?
    Can I burn this?
    And as we got older and we tried to use no with our parents…
    Clean you’re room….
    How did that work for you?
    Besides, as humans we like to help people and don’t feel good about saying no.
    I am someone who 100% believes in saying no and that there is nothing wrong with it.

  • 3. Jim Abbondante  |  May 22, 2008 at 10:13 am

    Very interesting article regarding communication challenges – which typically involves assumption and misunderstanding – which is most often due to the fact that the two people involved have not really connected or gotten on the ‘same page’ prior to the most important part of the communication process taking place. I think a good place to start is to consider the most productive context for the discussion. If as a leader your goal is to develop people while getting the job done then I think it’s important to take under consideration who the person is and what their developmental goals are and then use open ended questions to involve the other person in considering what the project is all about, its importance, how a successful outcome will benefit all involved and then ask them what their thinking and strategy might be. While it seems like the long way around, it only takes a few moments and you end up with the other person being challenged, taking ownership and producing a much better outcome. What some don’t seem to recognize is that effective communication is really all about working ‘smart’ as opposed to working ‘hard’. If you want my opinion of what real leadership is – especially in a business environment – leadership is not only about being consistent in your demonstration of what ‘good’ looks like, but it’s all about finding ways to further increase the return you are able to receive on what you are investing in your people while you are working together with them on a daily basis to get the job done on behalf of the customer or client. Leadership involves discovering new and more effective ways to create even greater opportunities for growth and success on the part of each one of your people, your team as a whole, your company, and also your customers. Leadership is all about you being in the driver’s seat when it comes to you ‘being’ and ‘doing’ whatever it takes to insure the success of anyone and everyone who has a vested interest in your organization’s success. Leadership is of no value unless it produces measurable results while developing people in the process – and that’s where the development of effective, growth-oriented communication strategies come in to play. I must admit however that your idea is an interesting one.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

September 2007
« Aug   Oct »



%d bloggers like this: