“No, Because….”

Build bridges instead of walls and you will have friends.

Have you ever been bothered by the response, “No, because…”?

Towards the middle of the week the team and I took a well-deserved break from our strategic task to attend a management retreat for all the managers within NASA’s mission operations in Houston.  Besides getting away for two-plus days, the retreat focused on our organization’s culture and brainstorming on organizational structure changes in response to changing US human spaceflight policy.  It was so nice to engage with the leaders within mission operations, who feel and believe and live the purpose and meaning of human spaceflight.  Yet I was bothered by a small minority of leaders (not on the strategic team, thankfully!) who, more often than not, struck me as negative with responses rooted in the “no, because…” realm.

What’s the problem with “No, because…”?  Here are two:

  1. It stifles conversation. “No, because…” is followed by a justification that is intended to push a viewpoint that is not open to further examination or discourse.  Instead of building upon ideas, it rejects ideas because it doesn’t fit some preconceived notion.  It is more the tool of debate – arguing of positions – rather than of dialogue.
  2. It is condescending. A “no, because…” response sometimes contains an explanation that leaves the other party with a “you clearly don’t understand” message.  This belittles alternative ideas and can even go beyond attacking the idea and instead targets the person.

Leaders should be seeking to open conversation, not stifle it.  Leaders should be seeking to explore options and encourage people, not whack down both.

When the incidents occurred, I bit my tongue.  My immediate reaction was to attack back, even though I was not the target.  However, I quickly noted my reaction, paused, and later figured out what was going on.

What am I going to do about it?  First of all, I’m going to pray that this minority of individuals don’t assume higher levels of leadership authority in our organization; if they do, we’re doomed.  In all seriousness, I’m taking a lesson from what I observed and am going to be even more conscious of my reactions to the ideas of others.  I renew my commitment to avoid “no, because…” in all my conversations.

It’s bigger than the lead-in quote above…it’s to build upon ideas, and value the people around us.  After all, isn’t that a key ingredient of successful leadership?


Text © Joe Williams 2011

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto


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“No, Because….”

5 thoughts on ““No, Because….”

  1. Amazing post. This is a like a light bulb (over used metaphor but it works). I realise ‘no because’ is acting as an innovation block in compiler and runtime design at Micro Focus. Now I see this I can do my bit to build bridges rather and walls. I cannot help but thing this also relates to ‘niceness first’. ‘No because’ as you pointed out, is no nice. If we think first off how to be nice to each other, some of these other things may well come automatically.

    Thanks – AJ

  2. I look forward to your posts. I learn, as someone being ‘led’, to be encouraged and patient as my own managers work through changes. However, the posts also give me insight as an instructor when I lead students or other teachers. How many times do we say, “No because…’ to children when they ask “Can we try…’ or ‘can we do…’. ? I also get the ‘No because…” working with peers. Being that I am overly curious and have worked in space operations, my coworkers have been more open when I’ve replied, “Ok. I see that. Yet, would you mind if I took another look to see if there is any other ways we might try….” It’s still a challenge. As an educator though, this is something I can easily implement when working with my instructional groups.

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