A few years ago, I was approached by a small company that specialized in psychological testing. They had developed a test of their own and they wanted to expand their market. So I was approached and asked if I wanted to represent them. To this end, I was invited to take their test to get a better idea of what it was they were offering, and so I did. The test basically defined you as a ‘yes-sayer’ or a ‘no-sayer’. Yes-sayers were considered progressive and open to change and new challenges, i.e. everything a company could ask for, and no-sayers were basically negative, non-team players that a company should be wary of.
By now I hope you are all raising an eyebrow and thinking, what? Did they really have that narrow an understanding of what makes a good worker? Yes, sadly this was the case. Unfortunately it continues be the case in many companies today, and although people are becoming more aware of the real strength of diversity, many companies still find a certain type of person most attractive.
Well, anyway, while I had previously in different tests been defined as positive, optimistic, curious, and open to change, in this particular test, I was defined as a no-sayer. I think the reason was that I found the questions too simplified to reflect the complexity of what it was they were testing and I was critical in my answers. So the outcome was that I was negative and needed to work on certain aspects to become a valued and attractive employee. Needless to say, I decided not to represent them, and I’m sure the feeling was mutual.
Luckily we have, despite everything, made some progress over the years. While ‘no’ used to be a bad word in the business world, that is no longer the case. I see advice all over targeted at business professionals on how to say no, and according to this advice, to be successful you should really be saying no all the time (I’ve added a couple of links below for those interested). Luckily, we now seem to understand the importance of being selective in what we do not only to succeed, but also to survive. In that light, this uncritical glorification of the yes-sayer just seems naïve.
But it reminds me of another issue that is also related to this. In management, as in many other areas like child-psychology or pedagogy, we have learned the importance and strength of positive redirection instead of always telling people what they are doing wrong. And I agree, I am a great believer of positive redirection, but at the same time, it is also important to sometimes say ‘no’ to unwanted or inappropriate behavior.
I’ve been discussing this with a friend for some time now. We often talk over lunch about the unbelievably bad management and behavior that we have witnessed both in our previous and current jobs, and half-jokingly we’ve been playing with the idea of setting up a website or Twitter account where we would share daily advice on what not to do. For example, do not break bad news to employees when you see them having lunch with friends outside of work (don’t roll your eyes, I’ve seen this happen). Because, while you think this would be common sense, apparently it’s not. So yes, positive redirection is good, but sometimes, it’s important to just say ‘stop, no, that is something you just don’t do’.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced or seen really appalling behavior in our work. If you had to give one piece of advice (or more) on what not to do, what would that be?
Links on saying no: