“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


“No, Because….”