The answer is no.

The answer is no. Now what was your question?

How many people do you know like that in your organisation? There aren’t many things that upset my usually cheery disposition, but this is one of them. People who say no, put the wall up, close their minds, before they have really understood what you are suggesting, what you are trying to achieve.


What makes people behave like this? There have been some interesting discussions in the HR twitterverse recently about fear, along with a great blog from Doug Shaw . I think fear is part of it, but culture plays a big part.

Whatever the underlying reason why this behaviour happens, we must find a way through it, past it, over the top of it; find ways to say yes.

We work in a world in which change is happening at an exponential pace. The rate of technological change shows no signs of slowing down. There are multiple factors impacting the workplace and organisation, and they all lead to one conclusion. We must be agile. Over at the Hackathon there’s a debate going on about adaptability – it is well worth a read. We can all list examples of companies that have failed to rise to that challenge and are now either zombies or just plain dead.

If we say no to suggestions and to new ideas, because we are scared, because we don’t want to take a risk or just plain aren’t interested then we risk stifling innovation, frustrating our talented employees, staying stuck in the past and therefore passed by.

It’s hard to say yes sometimes. It means putting yourself out there, taking a chance. So how do you begin to challenge the knee jerk no? In my experience, it starts with someone being a pain in the arse. Someone who asks difficult questions. Challenges the process. Upset the status quo – but in a good way. They are prepared to push that new idea past anyone that says no, if it is the right thing to do.

If someone has to be a pain in the arse, why not make it you?


4 thoughts on “The answer is no.

  1. Hi Gem. For me two things stick out in this post.

    1) I often enjoy being a pain in the arse so will happily continue.

    2) what is it that triggers the no? As you know I’m an emotional kind of guy so lets hypothesise:

    Fear – of change, or of failure in succeeding at the new thing,
    Anger – that the change will obstruct their goal of the ‘normal job’, that the change will be extra work = extra hours = less time with family = interference with goal
    Sadness – loss of valued object (way of working), loss of face/status/power/job if the change happens

    All of these emotion (which drive thoughts) can occur in less than 3 hundredths of a second (the speed that an emotional episode begins).

    As well as being pains in the arse, maybe we need to ascertain the triggers too.

    A great post, thank you.


  2. Hi Phil, thanks for the comments. I’m also an experienced pain in the arse, and plan to stay that way. I did think about expanding on the reasons but in end deleted them. I think the fear is a big part of it, but so is the fact that people simply get ‘stuck’. They just cannot see why the change is needed, or when it is time to change. When I wrote the post I had in mind those IT teams that block SoMe access just in case someone abuses it, or those HR teams that have rigid policies they won’t deviate from in case it sets a precedent.
    I’ve had that dialogue with some people lately. We do a process but no one really knows why, or can articulate the value it adds. At some point in the past, someone set something in stone and others have simply followed it without question. Fortunately the people I’m working with are pretty happy for someone to ask ‘why’ and challenge the process. Some, less so…..

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