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The Power of Yes

Emily Stickle headshot

March 1, 2023 | 3 Minute Read

Recently, someone told me that they were always impressed with my ability to say no. In a world where we value outcomes and feel that most people (especially those who are quite adept in their job) have an infinite capacity for work, it is becoming less frequent to hear the word no. In fact, for many, the act of saying no feels like defeat and may be indicative of their inability to perform. None of that is true of course, but it doesn’t change people’s perceptions or our own feelings. 

This is something I reflect on often, as I have always viewed myself as having the gift of saying yes. I mentor new project managers and scrum masters to lean into yes, even when things seem strange or difficult. In fact, I have presented on the power of yes and how we should start in the positive. So how then have I been given the reputation of someone with the power and capacity to say no?

It’s easy – I don’t. In fact, I encourage everyone to stop using that naughty little two-letter word.  Instead, I operate more like a “No Coach.” Where so many people live in a binary world of ”yes” and ”no”, I take the same approach and enthusiasm to ”yes”, as many comedians and improve artists have. I teach people to say “Yes, and…”  

Instead of piling more on your already busy list or flat out moving on from the request, start saying “yes, and…”.  

For example: Can this feature be added to your product? 

Yes, and it would require the addition of more resources or additional time. 

Sometimes, something may need to be removed to make the “yes” happen. There should not be a sense of defeat. Instead, this should empower people to use the available information to make a decision. Something will need to occur to get to “yes”, and that might be a no. The first step to saying yes. It is not a blanket invitation. ”Yes” should always lead to a conversation about what should change. ”Yes” is not an invitation to invade work, just like how ”no” is not admitting defeat. Being a ”no” coach means helping people understand their circumstances in a safe environment, allowing them to choose what needs to change. No longer are you saying no, but instead choosing what in your world you are going to say “yes" to in order to accomplish something new. 

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So how do you start saying yes more while ensuring that the ever-present “no” is still available to you? Well, there are a few easy places to start. 

1. Prioritization 

2. “Yes” and “no” are on a spectrum of how important something is to complete.  Understand that it will never be one or the other, instead the two balance each other out.

When people hear no, they think never. That is not the case. Often, it’s not a ”no” but a “not right now”. Find ways to define why the decision is being made and how these play into the overall plan. 

3. Listening 

Often, people fear hearing “no”. It’s a sure-fire idea killer and can stimy creativity. Listen to why it is important to someone. Then, explain that it is not a “true no", but a “not right now” situation.  

This all takes practice and perfection and needs to permeate every part of your life. When approached with any offer that seems insurmountable (that volunteer commitment, kids' sports teams, or the addition of an event on top of an already booked schedule) think about what each item means to you, what you are capable of, and the outcomes each provides. Live with the understanding that you cannot do everything, but you take the time to choose what gets your “yes”. 

And when things seem impossible, get a “no coach” who will help you decide what needs to be a “yes”, and what will be addressed later. 


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