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How to Counter the World of "No" and Open a Floodgate of Ideas

Making sure your team’s ideas are heard may lead to big wins for your business.
August 03, 2017

Many would agree that “yes” is one of the most concise motivational words in the English language. And in the workplace, that’s no exception. You may find that this simple word can encourage job satisfaction and employee loyalty. Saying “yes” to a small idea may ultimately turn that idea into a business game changer.

That said, the word has been somewhat elusive in the office of late. In the 2017 American Express OPEN ‘Get Business Done’ survey, more than 3 in every 10 workers (31 percent) believe their ideas are shut down too quickly in the office. And more than half (52 percent) of those surveyed agree with the statement, “Our internal office culture creates a lot of barriers to executing good ideas.”

So why the disconnect? Why is it so easy to immediately default to “no” in the office?

Simply stated, shutting down ideas is the path of least resistance. It’s less work to shoot down an idea and maintain the status quo, keeping things predictable and manageable.

New ideas take time to review. The idea must be developed further, there are resources and budgets to consider and oftentimes approvals are needed from more senior managers. But the perceived efficiencies in rejecting a new idea must be weighed against the potential adverse consequences of creating a culture of “no.”

Everyone wants to feel they have a voice. Mirror back what you heard the person say, in your own words. Acknowledge that you understand their idea.

The negativity surrounding “no” transcends the word itself. It inhibits further contributions, affects employee productivity and morale and can have a domino effect on other colleagues.

Of course, not everything deserves a “yes” in the office, but when it comes to how we react to new ideas, there’s certainly much room for improvement.

Why “Yes” Is So Potent

The best brainstorming sessions have one cardinal rule of engagement: Saying “no” to an idea is prohibited. Instead, you can only embellish or refine a concept when you respond.

It’s quite liberating. I’ve seen these brainstorms virtually light up people otherwise known as introverts. Wouldn’t it be terrific if every business culture was a macrocosm of this fertile ideation practice?

Flexibility and an open mind cost nothing, but offer a healthy ROI. A team that’s encouraged with genuine affirmation feels safe to share ideas and take risks. “Yes” builds trust and camaraderie among colleagues.

Even better, it can open a virtual floodgate of ideas that can put your business at a distinct advantage.

Adding Fuel to Ideas

I don’t know of any sustainable big innovations that occurred overnight. Few were perfected when first spoken, and most had many iterations. If they had been muzzled at the start, they might have never transpired—or, at the very least, been delayed.

How many times have we been in meetings where an idea seemed out of left field when first mentioned? Then someone at the meeting embellished it. Then another person refined it further. Then the concept took on a life of its own over time, until it became a bona fide product or service.

I often wonder how many thousands of iterations today’s major breakthroughs experienced before becoming what they are now. Could it be that some groundbreaking ideas are lurking in your own business, just waiting for the nod?

10 Ways to Get to “Yes”

Here are 10 ways you can encourage better idea sharing for a happier and more productive workplace.

1. Practice positive body language. You’ll encourage more openness and free-flowing thinking by making strong eye contact, nodding, smiling and leaning forward during your discussions. Avoid crossing your arms, looking away, looking at your watch and other distractions.

2. Actively listen. Everyone wants to feel they have a voice. Mirror back what you heard the person say, in your own words. Acknowledge that you understand their idea.

3. Examine your roadblocks. Play devil’s advocate with your own thinking if you believe you’re being too rigid. Is convenience or fear keeping you from being open to new approaches?

4. Catch yourself saying “no.” Take notice when ideas are easily shut down by you or others. Convenient phrases such as “Let’s revisit that some other time” or “I’ll get back to you” are often perceived as passive-aggressive, thinly disguised nos.

5. Ask for more. Ask for clarification so you fully understand the suggestion. Ideas may not be articulated perfectly at first, so you may need to dig further to give them their best shot.

6. Look for positive angles. While the new idea may not be applicable or usable in its earliest, unpolished form, try to glean value or reason behind the idea. It may just need some refinement, which you can work on together. (Just be sure to give credit where it’s due!)

7. Make “yes” your knee-jerk reaction. Make it a practice to say “yes” as a way to initially respond to an idea. For example, if an employee says, “I think we could get IT to develop software for that,” you can respond, “Yes, I like that idea. How do you see it working?”

8. Offer genuine praise. It often takes a leap of faith for any employee to propose a new idea in the first place, and for that alone they deserve credit. Praise and acknowledge them publicly. That will motivate others to contribute as well.

9. Show appreciation. Thank your team members individually when they share helpful suggestions. It’s encouraging and goes a long way in building loyalty.

10. Explain next steps. Let the person know how you believe the idea could be of use, and why. Even if the concept needs more work, give them specific feedback and let them know what your mutual next steps will be, if applicable.

Saying “yes” can become a healthy habit over time. By applying some emotional intelligence and making sure your team is heard and taken seriously, your company might just experience a new breakthrough you never thought possible.

Learn more ways to get business done.

Photo: Getty Images
Survey Methodology
The American Express OPEN Get Business Done Survey findings are based on a survey conducted by Morar Consulting fielded across the US between May 30th – June 5th, 2017. For this survey, 1,061 employees were asked about their views regarding “jargon” words usage, distractions, idea barriers and office personalities in the workspace. The study targeted employees who work in an office of 5+ people in multiple industries. Respondents were recruited through a number of different mechanisms, via different sources to join the panels and participate in market research surveys. All panelists have passed a double opt-in process and complete on average 300 profiling data points prior to taking part in surveys. Respondents are invited to take part via email and are provided with a small monetary incentive for doing so. Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. All data points were rounded for the purposes of reporting.