Lead Like You’re Listening

Lead to Nurture Ideas

At a time when companies are asking employees to put their “whole” self in to work, a “yes and” (YA) environment is critical for them to fully engage. While not a new concept, YA is a tried-and-true approach that builds on ideas in contrast with “yes but” (YB) that responds negatively to ideas by focusing on what’s wrong with them. YA builds trust, creates energy, nurtures acceptance and empowerment, and encourages dialog. It says, “I’m listening,” and everyone wants to be heard. YB shuts down creativity and erodes engagement.

A recent project gave me the opportunity to engage in a captivating exchange of ideas with a client. Building off of each other’s thoughts, the collaboration culminated in an exceptionally creative program that supports their cutlure and people-centric practices.

In fact, I was so impressed with the result that I kept replaying and dissecting the conversation. It hit me that (drum roll) not once did the dialog include a “yes, but” (YB). This is not a new thought by any means. It’s widely accepted that YB stifles ideas and enthusiasm and undermines motivational efforts.

New ideas can be met with positive curiosity or negative criticism. Obviously, the latter will shut down creativity and undermine your effort to spawn ideas. To prevent this, work to eliminate the following:

  • “The boss will never go for it.”
  • “It’s not in the budget.”
  • “We tried that before, and it didn’t work.”
  • “It will never work.” (Needs explanation; what part didn’t work, did it produce any desired results?)

Establishing a YA environment

Leaders set the tone for a YA environment by fostering trust on a number of fronts: employees trusting that their ideas won’t be judged; trust that there are no preconceived notions; trust that your leadership team supports a YA environment. To encourage a free exchange of ideas, ask for them in a number of ways: direct feedback requests via email or intranet, a suggestion box, at meetings (“What do you think?”), in newsletters.

Nurturing responses to ideas

Your response to ideas leads the way for how the entire organization will respond. Every idea may not be a winner. So it’s important to understand how to respond in all cases.

Ideas that appear to have merit

  • “Yes, and let’s discuss this further.”
  • Ask for opinions and encourage diverse ideas.
  • Encourage thought about the whold idea.
  • Build on opportunities as well as obstacles. (If it was previously unsuccessful, what has changed to make it attractive; how can past obstacles be avoided.)
  • Understand the rationale for success and anticipated results so you can convince others.
  • Before you turn an idea into a committee for review, ask to know more.

Ideas that appear to be unworkable

  • Instead of negating or refuting the idea, acknowledge it with something like, “This sounds like an opportunity that we need to explore.”
  • Avoid the impulse to dissect it for pieces that will work.
  • Instead of asking questions that require justification, make statements that advance the conversation.
  • Gain a fresh perspective by leaving your desk, shifting attention to another issue and returning to the idea later; you may see it in a different light, and amend it to make it work.
  • Determine what makes the idea weak and how it could work. It’s a process that may transform a weak idea into a strong one.

Handling YBs

  • Recognize that YB is “no” in a tuxedo.
  • Try to understand the “but” as a request for more information.
  • Provide more information about how to make your idea work or to resolve a roadblock.
  • Strengthen your idea with proof of a similar idea working.

I’ll leave you with a closing thought:

We learned YA behavior as children. At LEGOLAND (Mall of America), kids share and trade pieces and help each other build some pretty inventive structures. I think as we grow up, our egos evolve and get in the way with NIH (not invented here) and similar territorial issues. What tactics are you using to ensure a thriving culture in which people freely share ideas?

We are problem solvers and innovators when it comes to listening with your head and heart. We’ll help you implement down-to-earth strategies that build trust. Call us.

Toll free: 800-742-6800      In Minneapolis/St. Paul: 952-933-8365     www.askhillarys.com