You don’t have to be a yes-person …

… but you don’t have to be a naysayer.

What do you do when a manager suggests a project that you have reservations about?

As we’ve discussed in an earlier post, it’s important for managers to create a culture where their reports don’t feel that they have to be yes-people. When you are the report, it’s also important not to be a yes-person, both for the organisation’s success and for your own feeling of self-worth.

Recently, though, we were discussing with a colleague the importance of using judgement in this situation. Sometimes, in avoiding being a yes-person, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming a naysayer. Have a look at the differences in attitude that these responses suggest, and the likely reception you will get from your manager:

Yes-person Naysayer What about …
Yes! What’s the point of this? I’d like a better understanding of the business imperatives for this project.
 Yes! I don’t have time for this. Can we look at resourcing to ensure we meet these timeframes?
Yes! Senior management won’t like this. I have some suggestions for issues you’re likely to encounter in getting management approval.
Yes! I don’t know how to do this. Can you work with me to coach me through this?
Yes! That’s not how we do things here. I think you are likely to encounter some resistance from our accounting and risk departments because historically we have taken another approach to this, which I can give you more information on if you’d like.


Our colleague had recently been leading a project with some very resistant team members. It was difficult to give their concerns full weight, because of the negative way in which they expressed these concerns. She didn’t want or expect yes-people, but the nay-saying was both unhelpful and uninformative. Even when the proposal was to take on additional team members to help with the workload, she was met with the response, “A new team member will just make more work for me”.

Executive Coach Exchange team feedback
Can you recast negative feedback to be more useful and informative?

With responses more like those in the third column – and note, these are not all positive responses – our colleague would have been better placed to address the concerns and make the project work for the team members as well as for senior management.

Our colleague remembered an occasion when she was just starting out, when she was surprised to hear a senior manager strongly recommending someone for a challenging role, despite explicitly recognising that the candidate wasn’t qualified: “She doesn’t have the skills or experience for the job,” he said, “but she’s an energy-giver not an energy-taker, and she’ll bring enthusiasm to the team.”

Our colleague said that after her recent experience, while still not sharing the view that enthusiasm trumps ability, she could understand how a manager could reach the point of wanting to be surrounded by positivity.

When you need to raise concerns or give feedback to management, it’s worthwhile thinking about the result you want to achieve.  You can be honest and forthright without being negative. When you are purely negative, without any suggestions for overcoming the issue, it can be tempting for management to disregard your opinions. If you are prepared to put the time and thought into answers more like those in the third column, this can benefit everyone involved, including the organisation as a whole.

An executive coach can help junior managers reframe their feedback to achieve a more positive outcome, and can help senior managers create a culture where staff feel more able to express their concerns in an informative and helpful way.

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