On October 25, 2020, in the Feedback section of my article entitled “My Communication Style: I like seriousness, I don’t like gossip”: I had written (1): If you don’t say “no” and almost never say “yes” like I do, then you get ‘what did Murat Ülker say?, ‘I wonder if it is this, or was it that he was talking about’ that people are consumed with.’ What I want is for them to come to their own decisions. Except for the subjects I have already mentored and specialized in (R&D, investment, undertaking/risk), I no longer tell anyone what to do or even listen to how they do it. I am interested in what they can accomplish (OKR and KPI), because it requires being at the top executive level working with me. It should not be necessary to spell everything out, life is so short, busy, and there is so much work to do…
There were many comments, under the post stating that it is important to give Feedforward, not Feedback. Let me explain it this way. Technically, Feedforward is a feedback concept, a technique that emerged in the last two decades with the application of positive psychology in business. It’s not too complicated. Let’s say you didn’t like the presentation of an employee, criticizing the bad points of his presentation means feedback, emphasizing the good results he will achieve by stating the points he will pay attention to in the next presentation means feedforward. Many studies show that feedforward is more effective on employee motivation and performance (2). For example, my late father, Sabri Bey, would both feedforward and at the same time politely ask us questions as if he did not know or he did not have authority, allowing us to find the answer. He also emphasized the importance of consultation.
The words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are very strong forms of feedback. In terms of the signal they give, it means either opening a door or closing it. In everyday life, you habitually use so many yes and no words without thinking too much that you do not realize that these ordinary words can actually affect your whole life, including your working life. Especially as companies move towards a period in which silos disappear, more horizontal relations are developed and tasks are fuzzy in companies, there are difficulties faced by those who have started to climb their career ladder in terms of yes / no.
Functions in companies have begun to be carried out not only vertically but horizontally and in cooperation. Top-down management has begun to give way to fuzzy accountability and dotted line reporting, and this matrix organizational structure has started to complicate things (3). All day, all employees, including myself, try to fulfill requests from different departments. Looking at the requests received, it is impossible to say that they are formal, informal or large and small. I don’t know how many of them are still requested on behalf of my name, and how many of them are requested using the name of Mr. Ali Ülker or Mehmet Tütüncü! I think we have been trying to halt this effect by professionalizing over time and we have achieved this. I explain this to each new co-worker during orientation. Be careful; even I don’t talk they make me talk before I speak. They say things are done like this, Murat Bey wants it like that. Do not hesitate to question them, because sometimes when I say why something is being done, they will say Murat Bey would like it like this even to me. However, this prevents institutionalization and competent work of managers. On the contrary, we have authorization/approval tables for delegation and transfer of authority. The definition of each job all clear who is responsible for what.
While all this is going on, it is possible to receive various requests not only from top managers, teammates, but also from departments all over the organization chart, which have been labeled as ‘internal customers’ for some time. These requests continue to come from the other side of the table or by phone, e-mail, digital messages and now from Zoom and from Teams, not to mention interrupting, interesting but unnecessary information and requests from WhatsApp groups every minute.
This flow of information worries me. In communication, this is called “overloading communication“. Multi-tasking was known to cause stress, now it seems that digital stress has been added to it (4). When the different tasks brought by technology combined with requests from different places, a phenomenon called digital stress emerged. The information and news bombardment and accompanying expectations have become truly alarming. Professional success and personal well-being now more than ever depends on how you manage the flow of audio, written and video information and news, let alone beginners, even at the top of their profession. If everyone and everything is given a “yes”, it is not possible to do everything well. To a friend that inquired, “How do you manage such large and diverse businesses?” I once said “it is not as difficult as you think when everyone does their job, I only have the right to say ‘no’ (veto), and I use it”. But in general, I use little yes’s and no’s. Because I know the consequences.
Harvard Professor Robert Cialdini explains the science of making people say “yes” in his book, “The Psychology of Persuasion”, which is one of the best-selling psychology books in the world (5). There is such research in the book. University students were asked if they could guide young and troubled children for a day to visit the zoo. 83% answered “no”. Later, when another group of university students were asked whether they would be able to guide young and troubled children once or twice a week for two years, and whether they would be a babysitter for a day in the zoo, the rate of those who said “yes” increased threefold. Cialdini calls this the rule of “reciprocity” in persuasion. The load reduction in the second question was perceived as doing good, then the lighter burden was accepted to respond to the good. Cialdini talks about 7 such important persuasion principles in his book. In fact the lesser known book called “Yes!” was co-written with Noah Goldstein and others. His book, “Yes: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Persuade” has been quite a success (6). When you think that there are many persuasive strategies and tactics used to make us say “yes” to us, you once again understand how important and protective every yes or no that comes out of our mouths can be.
The information and news feed today includes more than anyone can afford. Some of these are supported by persuasion strategies and tactics. If you take on or do not prioritize more than you can do, you will be wasted and you will be unable to do the things you need to do. But will you be able to afford to annoy your coworkers and other requestors? What will your attitude be when new career and life opportunities appear? That’s why it’s so important to know when and how to say no or yes.
A well thought-out no will protect you, and a proper yes can make a difference, cooperate and increase our impact. So how do we make sure that when saying yes is really yes, and when we say no, really no? Because just a causal said yes or no can have different consequences.
For example, if a top manager who is very hardworking and knows the technical side of his job very well; conducts investment projects and risk analysis and supervises the relevant units in this regard. His job is to make investment suggestions, but when it comes to presenting the data and reaching the result, he does the message communication in an extremely colorless way. So he uses neither persuasive nor authoritative tone, just saying yes. The senior management team does not trust his judgments. However, establishing connections with internal customers and gaining their trust should be a priority, right? But does doing this have anything to do with the quality of the work he does? Is this explicitly requested of him? He really has a background in his job, his investment advice is sound, and although he’s good, he might lose his job. Because what can the result of a mere answer (yes) cost?
A “no” answer that has been reached as a result of good evaluation protects you. A properly used yes allows you to serve others, make a difference, collaborate successfully and increase your influence. By saying “no” at the right time for the right reasons, it should be aimed to gain a good reputation and make each yes truly valuable. Tulgan explained very well how to do this (3), he says: first evaluate the request (request) and either give a logical “no” answer or say a “yes” that will lead to success.
According to Tulgan’s model, the information you will obtain from the applicant as a result of your questions should include:
1. What is the date and time of the request?
(You can watch how the project is developing)
2. Who is the request from?
3. What exactly does he want?
4. When should it end?
5. What kind of resources do I need to do the job?
6. Who is the source of authority in this matter and does this person or group have approval?
7. What are the possible benefits?
8. What are the overt and hidden costs?
You have to gather information to understand the demand. The larger or more complex the demand is, the more information you need to gather. Sometimes fulfilling the request is out of question. Or the demand seems so insignificant that doing it may take less time than taking notes. But if you try to scrutinize every request little and big, people may accuse you of creating an unnecessary bureaucracy, they may be right. You may find that a request that seems absurd at first glance is actually wise or rational, and another request is actually illogical. Taking notes should become a habit in response to requests. It would be great if you share this note with the requester. When you create an approved request from the other party about what is needed, their confidence increases when they witness how you make a “yes or no” decision. A well thought-out no answer at the right time can be a reason for preference for everyone. A bad no given in a hurry can cause problems for everyone, especially you. When you do not evaluate the request correctly, you may have created many negative judgments such as “ignoring us, not cooperating, running away from work” with the criticisms spoken behind you. When you refuse because you have no capacity, bad no’s begin to occur. False no’s often cause you to miss out on experiences that will work for you, and you start to be rejected and harsh, hurtful feelings start to form between the parties.
In fact, a correct no is about timing and logic. You should say no to things that are not allowed, cannot be done, or disturb the balance you are trying to maintain. If there are procedures, directives, regulations that prohibit you from doing that job, or if your superior has forbidden you to do that job, you close the door in the first place, says Bruce Tulgan. It is true, if it is something that can be done for you, you should still not do it, but you can make an attempt to change that procedure, directive or regulation. If it is not right for you to do that job, stop acting with the person who made the request. Say “I have no discretion here. This request violates the policy, the rules” and reject it in the first place. It’s easy to reject people in the first place, remember.
In the second stage it is actually easy to say “no”. If you don’t have the ability to do the job, it is okay to say “this is beyond my skills” at first. Or you could say “I currently have no experience to fulfill your request quickly and safely”. The answer may again be no, but the answer is also “This is not my specialty. But I can learn and do it in a short time, give me some time”. This move will be a real development area for you, now they apply to you in such projects and progress in your career.
However, the most common reason for the “can’t” answer, or “no”, is overload. In these cases, people tend to say things like “If I look at my other jobs, I won’t be able to do this anytime soon.” This is a mandatory “no”. If you can’t avoid this, try to take the opportunity to fulfill the request later, or help when available.
The third stage is the most difficult, because it is not clear at first whether it is worth doing whatever it is. You need to make a judgment about your likelihood of success, the potential return on investment, and your and your company’s priorities. And sometimes the answer to your request can be “maybe” or “not now”. What can you say in such situations? “I need to know more. Let me ask you these questions. “Essentially, you make sure that the person who needs help comes up with a more comprehensive or persuasive recommendation. If you don’t think it’s a valuable target for you right now then give any of the following answers: this is not something I should say yes to at the moment because the probability of success is low, or not in line with current priorities, or I don’t think the result will be very good.
No, if it is a definite NO, report it to the other party and say I know someone who can do it or I can help someone else do it for you. If your answer is I can’t or shouldn’t do it, or if it’s a bad idea or you shouldn’t, have this conversation with the person making the request and let them learn the facts.
This is very important: Every definite no allows you to say a more accurate yes. This will be a yes that adds value, builds relationships and enhances your reputation.
Most people have a lot of work and little time to do. It might make you feel important to say yes to requests from your superiors, teammates and others, but can you continue working like this? The only way to be successful sustainably is to be truly successful at saying no in a way that makes people feel respected, and yes only when you have a solid desire and a clear plan of action (3).
I may not have emphasized the psychological state of the one who received the “yes” or “no” answer; it is possible that good no can be perceived as rejection and cause negative behaviors that can put the person in various states of emotional deprivation. Being a part of a group and not staying out are very important social effects for those who demand it. This effect should also be taken into account.
In the aforementioned article above (1), I mentioned the “parent, child, adult” egos that we live by Eric Berne, namely the behavioral patterns that come into play in different situations in our brain. When answering yes or no, it should not be forgotten which type of behavior can come into play. Our preference should be adult behavior. Do not forget that #makehappybehappy occurs as a result of a correctly used yes / no.
Note: This article, which is open sourced, can be cited by mentioning the author. Copyright not required.
(2) Rice, B., “Feedforward or feedback – reframing positive performance management”, Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 25 Issue: 5, pgs.7-9, 2017.
(3) Tulgan, Bruce, Learn When to Say No, HBR, September 2020.
(4) Leonard Reinecke et.al. (2017). Digital Stress over the Life Span: The Effects of Communication Load and Internet Multitasking on Perceived Stress and Psychological Health Impairments in a German Probability Sample, Media Psychology, Volume 20, Issue 1, 2017. pgs. 90-115.
(5) Cialdini, R. (2007). ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion), Harper Business.
(6) Cialdini R., et al., (2009) Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive), Simon&schuster
(7) Herz, S., Don’t Take Yes For An Answer, Harper Business, 2020.