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A little “no” hurts less than a blanket “yes”

My client Kevin gulped when the number two person at his company asked, “Hey, we’d love your help with names for that new product. Will you send over your ideas?” Inside he wilted a little because he knew he would agonize and procrastinate on this. 

I used to think that success and fulfillment depended on making the big decisions right. After decades of doing this work, I now know that while the big yeses and nos matter, living our Native Genius is really about the little yeses and nos. We live our Native Genius (or not) in moments, like the one Kevin was in, when we find ourselves on the verge of saying yes, when we’re dying to say no. 

In the split second when Kevin thought about saying no, the “Yeah-But” avalanche started inside his mind. “Yeah-but maybe it won’t be that hard this time. Yeah-but what if she tells the CEO and I look like a bad team player.” Kevin had been working with Native Genius long enough to know to at least try to name his Yeah-Buts rather than letting them puppet his actions through their insidious silence. Through the Native Genius Method, he’s learned that simply by naming the Yeah-Buts, he takes away some of their power and opens the door in his brain to see more options. 

The split second when he pauses is essential because like Kevin, we’re all on autopilot when it comes to dolling out blanket yeses when people ask us to do something. We all want to be the good soldier, the team player, the one people can rely on. In dolling out our blanket yeses, we repeatedly mask our authentic selves. We’re so wired for connection and belonging that we betray the connection and belonging to our true selves because we think we have to choose between belonging to them or belonging to ourselves. But it doesn't have to be this way. 

Inside that split-second pause, Kevin quickly assesses and gives himself permission to take a tiny leap of faith. He says, “I would love to help with the naming project, but you know what? I’m really bad at coming up with names. I’m not your guy for ideas on a blank sheet of paper. But I love the process of helping the group distill and select from the list of choices. I am your guy for that.” Then comes the next most important pause in this interaction, the wait to see if his “Yeah-Buts” will come true. 

She responds, “Oh, I didn’t know that. Actually, we have a ton of people giving ideas but I wasn’t sure how we were going to do the decision part. Great. I’ll come back when we get to that stage.”

Kevin hangs up the phone with a heavy sigh of relief and huge smile. In that moment, he’s taken one tiny leap of faith to let himself be seen for how the engine of his intelligence — his Native Genius — really works. 

He might have gotten the opposite response from the person making the request — that of conventional wisdom. She might have thought or said, “Yeah-But that’s selfish,” or “Yeah-But a good team player would just do what’s asked.” 

When it comes to how we apply intelligence at work, conventional wisdom leads us to the dead-end of mediocrity and misery. Looking at our work through the lens of Native Genius, what we see is a responsibility to let the people we work with know where we can help the most — where we have eagerness, persistence, and vast inner resources to get the job done. We need to reframe Kevin’s response in this interaction. It’s not that he was refusing, he was influencing the situation to be of even greater service. In the process, he’s helping the team, the outcome, his impact, and yes, his fulfillment and well-being. 

It takes two to tango in this type of conversation but if we never try, we won’t find the people who want to dance like we do — from our human, authentic, and best selves. 



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