Can I drive?” my six-year-old, vibrating with possibility, asks as he tugs on his seatbelt and reaches for the steering wheel.
“No! That’s silly. You’re only six.”
“Can I have a cookie?” The ever-optimistic four-year-old looks at me with wide, blue eyes as he tugs on my apron.
“No, you know the rules. You have to eat your dinner first.”
Ewwww. That shut-down feeling. The rejection.
Let’s try that again.
“Can I drive?” my six-year-old asks, vibrating with possibility.
“Yes. When you’re 17.” I always want to give myself some grace. He could get his licence at 16.
“Can I have a cookie?” the ever-optimistic four-year-old looks at me with wide, blue eyes.
“You bet. You can have a cookie as soon as you’ve finished your dinner.”
How often have I gone into organizations and heard the adult version of these same conversations?
I was hired by a manufacturing company to find out why there was such a toxic culture in the production department. The first worker I talked to, a young, enthusiastic shipper, summed up the problem better than any team of experts could:
“They don’t even listen to my ideas. When I make a suggestion, the first response is ‘No’ and I watch them waste time and money. And the next time something comes up, I say nothing and I sit back and watch the path of destruction.”
The primal response of a no versus a yes is profound.
No is dismissive. Yes invites exploration.
No is mechanical. Yes is human.
Yes elicits opportunity. No closes the door on it.
Yes creates value. No destroys it.
Yes invites conversation. No shuts communication down.
Why is this?
Psychologist Guy Winch, who has studied the effects of rejection, found that rejection activates the same areas of the brain as when we experience physical pain.
Back in cave-dwelling days, we needed each other to survive. If we felt pain from the potential of being banished, we changed our behaviour to maintain our place in the group. This creates a negativity bias; our brains are hard-wired to remember the negative experiences and forget the positive ones.
What does this look like in the real world?
The still-eager employee jitter-bugged into the office of the “been around the block too many times” manager.
“I’ve been thinking that if we re-jigged the production so we did X first, it might be better,” the enthusiastic employee blurts out as he leans across the desk.
The manager sighs: “No, this is the way we have always done it. We tried it once, and it did not work.”
The communication door slams shut. The employee feels devalued.
How about this approach?
“I’ve been thinking that if we re-jigged the production so we did X first, it might be better,” suggests the employee.
The manager nods. “Yes, that idea has some merit. We thought about that, but we were concerned we’d need much more inventory. How could that work into your idea for change?”
Winch’s research also showed that rejection temporarily lowers our IQ. Rejection in the workplace means greater potential for mistakes and poor decision-making.
Think about the last time you felt not heard, not valued, rejected or how much spinning your mind was doing as it tried to sort out why you were not being accepted.
While you are thinking about the rejection, you are not thinking about the client you need to call back, the piece of equipment you need to repair or the project that is due tomorrow.
Everything takes a back seat to the primal need to belong.
Research suggests that it takes five positive interactions to make up for a single negative interaction in a relationship.
Translated, this means that every time an employee is told “no” it takes five “yeses” or positive interactions to counteract. It seems like it would be a lot easier to learn “Yes, and …”
“Yes and …” is powerful and positive and sets the brain in a creative direction and still allows the opportunity to express a different thought, even to express doubt.
“No” is rejection and it threatens our need to belong. This adds to the emotional pain and can manifest as anger and aggression. “No” will crumble and destroy relationships.
Yes encourages. No discourages.
Yes empowers. No demoralizes.
Yes energizes. No drains.
Next time your first impulse is to say “No,” try “Yes, and what if … ?”