Let’s say one of your stakeholders approaches you and suggests that you add a data export feature to your product. For whatever reason, you think it’s a bad idea.
You respond, “No, I don’t think that’s a good idea because…” You may even try to be more diplomatic by responding, “Yes, but we need to do more research first.”
You may feel that you have been diplomatic. Unfortunately, your stakeholder likely doesn’t feel that way.
The words “no” and “but” are powerful. They can quickly shut down any dialogue between you and your stakeholders.
When we are told no, we generally don’t like it. Most of us have been told no for most of our lives in some way or another. When we are told no, many of us will find any way around it. Even “Yes, but…” sounds more like we’re saying “no.”
Your stakeholders want to know that you hear them
Stakeholders are not that different from us. They don't like to be told “no” either. So, when we say “no, but…” that just stops the conversation right in its tracks.
They stop listening to us. We aren’t validating their feelings, so they think that we are not listening to them, that we don’t think they’re smart, and that we don’t respect them. So when we say “no,” their stubbornness kicks in, and they find a way to make it “yes.”
We have found a way to express our opinions to our stakeholders and continue the conversation. Instead of saying “No, but…” we can say “Yes, and…”
In the example above, you could say, “Yes, and let’s do some research to ensure this doesn’t frustrate our users or cause trust issues that damage our relationship with them.”
Another way you could respond is, “Yes, and I have an idea of how to keep our users’ needs in mind. Is now a good time to share it with you?”
Now they are more likely to feel heard and validated. You will be much more engaging because you hold space for that person.
Your stakeholders are good people for wanting to make changes to the product. They are just seeing the world differently through their own lens.
There are different ways to go about things that will likely lead to better outcomes in the long run. And that's why we’re here.
We’re here to help our users. We’re here to make their lives better. We’re here to be their voice. We can only do that if we meet our stakeholders where they are and keep the lines of communication open.
With simple techniques like “yes, and…” we ensure we come to our stakeholders with an open mind. It’s not an “us versus them” situation. It’s all of us working together. We are on the same side.
To do this effectively, you need to say it with the right tone of voice and facial expressions. It is very easy to come off saying “yes, and…” but sounding like you’re saying “yes, but…” or “no, but…”
It’s not just your words
Think about how much is communicated — not by the words you say, but by how you say them.
The tone of your voice, modulation, facial expressions, and body language make up 93% of the way you communicate. So, you need to practice saying “yes, and…” so that people can hear the sincerity, the lift, the genuineness.
It may sound odd, but it may take some practice to control your facial expressions and tone of voice. For example, you can practice in the mirror, in the shower, while driving to work, or when taking a walk.
How you perceive yourself is not necessarily how others perceive you. So, you may want to practice with your spouse, your kids, or your friends and see how you sound to them.
We want to meet people where they are, hear them, and feel they bring value to this journey to help our users. We must actually feel that, have that in our heart, and in our voice, or they will feel we are being fake and disingenuous.
“I wanna dye my hair electric blue!”
One morning, I had a conversation with my daughter as we were driving to her school. Out of nowhere, she proclaimed that she wanted to dye her hair electric blue.
I could have said “No!” and ended the conversation. I could have even said, “Yes, but have you thought of…” My daughter would still have rolled her eyes, shut down, and felt I didn’t hear her at all.
Instead, I said, “Oh, yes, and how about you do some research on what it would take to change your dark hair to electric blue? And have you thought about what will happen once the color starts fading?”
I didn’t reject the idea of electric blue hair. (Actually. I think electric blue hair would be cool. Really cool.) However, I think there should be some discussion about it and some “Yes, and…”
Let’s return to the example at the beginning, where your stakeholder requests a data export feature. Maybe they’re saying that because that’s what they’re hearing people say.
What if they are looking for the things that will make a better product and make your customers happy? Your stakeholders just don’t always have the language to express this.
You have this beautiful opportunity to connect with them, and as long as you don't shut down their willingness to communicate with you, they will come to you and tell you what they need. They will reach out to you.
Responding to terrible ideas
What if your stakeholder comes to you with an absolutely terrible idea? How do you respond with a “yes, and…” while still sounding sincere?
For example, one of your stakeholders approaches you and suggests that you make the Cancel Subscription button small and hard to find. They think this will encourage customer retention. In your head, you are screaming, “No! That’s a horrible idea!”
Of course, you want to be more diplomatic than that, but you also want to be genuine. One way you can respond is to say, “Yes, and I hear what you’re saying, and I will need a little time to process that. Can we circle back tomorrow?” Give yourself time to consider their idea and determine the best way to respond.
You can also respond, “Yes, and I see where you're coming from.” (Of course, only say this if you really see where they’re coming from.) Your stakeholder can be fundamentally flawed, yet you can still see where they’re coming from. They might come from a completely wrong place, but you may genuinely understand their thought process. You can generally find a place to connect with someone, even if you disagree with them.
Making the switch to Yes, And…
The words “no” and “but” can quickly shut down any dialogue between you and your stakeholders, team members, and colleagues. To build rapport and encourage communication, switch your language to “yes, and…”. This will promote the exchange of ideas and let people know you are listening to them.
See how often you say “No” or “but” in a day, an hour, or a meeting. It may be more than you realize.
Once you become aware of how often you are shutting down conversations, consider changing your response to “yes, and…” Then practice it.
Practice it all the time with whomever you encounter until you feel your responses are genuine. In time, you will become a better communicator, and people will appreciate you for genuinely listening to them.
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