The Power of Yes

Joe Wojniak

Senior Quality Engineer of New Products/Medtronic Brain Therapies - Neurosurgery - AdvisoryCloudTM

"The decision to say Yes or No depends upon the cost and benefit of saying Yes."



We live in a hectic 24-7 world. Information overload and burn-out are signs of stress. This stress is induced by the availability of information and the apparent speed with which events unfold and are communicated globally. Why would one take on more responsibility? Or more things to do? We'll explore the idea that by saying Yes more often than saying No results in more opportunities being attracted to you. By attracting opportunity, we can start new businesses, grow existing businesses, and help bring prosperity to the world.

Yes vs. No

We learn to say no at a fairly early age, around three or four years of age shortly after we learn to talk. Vaish, Grossmann, and Woodward presented a study where infants were demonstrated to pay attention to negative stimuli preferentially. Developmental and behavioral theorists suggest that for children and adults paying attention and remembering negative information is retained possibly due to survival benefits. This may help an individual avoid threats, by remembering potentially hazardous situations. However, a negative attitude is damaging to interactions between people and within social groups. Positivity has general health benefits and can improve feelings about current circumstances and to be hopeful about the future. Either viewpoint, whether positive or negative, also needs to reflect the reality of current circumstances.

During World War II, people that survived the concentration camps were later shown to have a realistic view that they were experiencing something horrible. Those that were overly optimistic were unable to endure the terrible treatment and conditions that they were subjected to, while those that were overly pessimistic were unable to maintain a will to live, or a desire to continue living under such extreme circumstances. This is simply to illustrate that our perception of reality is important and influences our behavior. The victims of the concentration camps certainly had little under their control externally.

When things are generally good, but a person's perspective is negative or pessimistic, this is the negativity bias that needs to be actively worked against by consciously acknowledging that the glass is more than half full.

Why say Yes?

When in a leadership role, the people in the organization will perhaps unconsciously mimic your behavior. So, while leading by example doesn't necessarily guarantee that everyone will follow suit, it does begin to establish the behavioral norms for the organization. Habitually saying No also leads to fewer inquiries and requests, because people will assume that they will be told No. This becomes lost information that is never communicated to you.  The opposite, saying Yes too often, also has negative side effects.  It is simply not practical that everyone will get what they want in every interaction and circumstance. So, if saying No too often leads to people not bringing requests forward and saying Yes too often leads to over-commitment, what is a good approach? It may simply be that moderation is called for. There need to be enough "Yes's" so that people think that their request may be approved, but enough "No's" to avoid the problem of over-commitment leading to missed commitments.  

Should I say Yes or No?

The decision to say Yes or No depends upon the cost and benefit of saying Yes. We've already learned that there are costs to saying No too quickly or too often. Our minds consume a large number of calories thinking, and therefore the mind seeks out energy saving behaviors that work most of the time. These patterns can be influenced and can be used to trigger almost automatic responses (Cialdini, Influence the Power of Persuasion.)  Saying No works most of the time because we haven't made a commitment to do anything. However, there are indirect costs to saying No that we explored above. Giving yourself 2-3 seconds before responding Yes or No allows time to really consider the request. An initial affirmative but non-committal response to give yourself time to respond may be the answer.  Such as: "I see why that is an attractive idea, however, there may be side effects that we need to consider.  How about..." Others may be pressuring you for a quick response, in an effort to get you to say Yes and for you to end the interaction.

Maybe It's Not Really About Yes or No...

A large portion of communication is non-verbal. It's body language, tone of voice, making eye contact. While the assertion that 93% of communication is non-verbal may be a myth, it is certainly true that body language and demeanor need to be congruent with the words that you are speaking. A person can certainly say Yes in an irritated manner- perhaps implying that they would have rather said No but are wanting to end the interaction. Perhaps the power of positivity is really about being pleasant to be around- a friendly hello, a genuine interest in the other person, and making eye contact certainly communicate that you are in the moment and are not pre-occupied. The opportunities that are "attracted" are simply the result of more discussions with people, more network connections made.


Communicating intentionally and in a manner that is pleasant to be around, will certainly enable more discussions and more network connections. More opportunities for information to come your way, where you can consider whether to act on it or not. In this hectic world of ours, sometimes it is important to pause, reflect, and to have conversations with the people that are all around you.

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.