The Better Work Institute
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the research

When You Say Yes But Mean No

 

“Saying yes when you really mean no” is a problem that haunts organizations from start-ups to multi-nationals.

“Saying yes when you really mean no” is a problem that haunts organizations from start-ups to multi-nationals. It exists across industries, levels, and functions. And it’s exacerbated by a down economy, when the fear of losing one’s job is on everybody’s mind and the idea of allowing conflict to surface or disagreeing with others seems particularly risky. We live in a culture—especially at work—that prefers harmony over discord, agreement over dissent, speed over deliberation. We believe that the best thing to do to preserve our relationships and to ensure that our work gets done as expeditiously as possible is to silence conflict.

Worse yet, as Leslie Perlow documents, the act of silencing conflict may create the consequences we most dread. Tasks frequently take longer or never get done successfully, and silencing conflict over important issues with people for whom we care deeply can result in disrespect for, and devaluing of, those same people. Each time we silence conflict, we create an environment in which we’re all the more likely to be silent next time. We get caught in a vicious “silent spiral,” making the relationship progressively less safe, less satisfying, and less productive. Differences get glossed over, patched over, and suppressed . . . until disaster happens.

Whether it’s a Fortune 500 firm, small business, or government bureaucracy, Perlow provides a keen understanding of the hidden issues behind what people say (and don’t say). And more important, she shows how to create relationships where individuals feel empowered to express their genuine thoughts and feelings and to harness the power of positive conflict.