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The “Yes, But” Syndrome

A friend asks you for advice about a problem she’s having, and every suggestion or idea you offer is met with “Yes, but that won’t work for me because . . .”

You’ve had the experience? I’m sure you have. I think we all have. Sometimes it happens in a one on one situation with a friend or colleague, and sometimes in a bigger arena like at a meeting at work where there is a brainstorming session to help solve a problem, and the suggestions are shut down as fast as they come up.

The “yes, but” syndrome is fear in disguise. Fear of stepping out of your comfort zone, fear of trying something new or different, fear that the problem won’t be solved and so you prevent it from being solved, or fear of success in some cases.

So how do you handle it?

If you are dealing with a chronic offender, who regularly shuts you down as you are offering your best ideas, then don’t bother. It’s not worth your time or energy. You can either avoid those situations or call them out if you feel it’s worthwhile to do so.

If the person in question is someone close to you, you could gently observe back to him what’s happening.

I notice that as I give you my ideas or advice, you tell me pretty quickly why none of them will work. Are you aware of that?

This can be helpful if you are not angry in your delivery, and if the person in question is not prone to being defensive. It can backfire, so you may want to weigh it out a bit and decide if you feel the outcome will be positive or not.

Are you a “Yes, but” person?

If you find yourself lapsing into the “yes but” syndrome, then take a step back and readjust your mindset. Get yourself into a brainstorming mode. That means taking in all ideas offered without making any immediate judgments. Let them sit in your mind awhile and then sift through them to see what might work and what might not.

Here’s some tips to avoid the “yes, but”:

1. Listening doesn’t mean agreement.

Hearing new ideas doesn’t mean that you have to accept or use them. It just means that they are possibilities that could be helpful. Just take them and add them to the list of possibilities. No further action is required until and unless you decide to act on any of them.

2. Have an open mind.

In most cases, there is more than one solution to a problem or more than one way to look at something. Open yourself up to hearing as many possible ideas or solutions as you can without making immediate judgment on what will work. Avoid censoring.

Your goal should be to hear as many possibilities and solutions as you can and just list them in your head, or on paper, for future consideration. You’re not making decisions right now.

3. Allow time for decisions.

When you hear new ideas or someone offers a solution to a problem that seems kind of “out there,” the default reaction is to dismiss it.

This is a mistake. Sometimes those ideas end up being the best solutions.

Take everything in and then let it sit. Our minds can work wonders if we allow the time necessary for all of the connections and patterns to come together to give us answers.

You know how sometimes you struggle with a problem and then you sleep on it, and the answer appears in the morning? That’s because the subconscious is working for you and connecting the dots you couldn’t see initially. Allow time if you can before making snap decisions.

4. Check your fear at the door.

Fear is our worst enemy. It can be subtle. If you have a problem that feels urgent, you can become afraid that no solution will appear, and so you shut down any possibility without real consideration.

You may also be afraid of branching out and trying something new. Actually, this occurs a lot. People love their comfort zones, even if they are constricting or dysfunctional.

Ask yourself if fear is keeping you from hearing or trying different solutions that could be effective for you.

5. Identify your comfort zones.

I alluded to this one already in the one above, but it bears a little more attention. It is very useful to really take a look at comfort zones. People’s natural tendency is to stick to patterns they’re used to, even if the patterns are not healthy.

You’ve heard of the lottery winner that ends up going broke. He was used to being poor and so unconsciously recreated that situation even when having the opportunity to be rich for a lifetime. His comfort zone was struggling with money.

When you find yourself using “yes, but”, and especially if you use it often, ask yourself what comfort zone you are protecting. Just because you’re used to something doesn’t make it good. You won’t change, however, until you identify the problem and make a conscious decision to change it.

What are your comfort zones?

Leave a comment. I’m always happy to hear your take on the subject, or solutions you’ve tried that work for you.

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