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Learning to Stand Up

In my journey as a coach and mentor, a key observation has been that in the race to have good career prospects, many professionals become “Yes Men!” Have you encountered this or been a victim of this “Yes Man” syndrome? This fear of being left out and desire to fit in is all prevalent.


The “Customer is Always Right” morphs into “Every Stakeholder is Always Right.” My profession Human Resources is especially vulnerable to this and many examples about of the HR manager not asking logical questions to help arrive at a conclusion but merely rubber stamping a decision. Another very common problem with “Yes Man” syndrome is the lack of ability to say NO to new projects or scope creep even when there is no time. Keeping on saying Yes without capacity is a recipe for poor quality and we all know the price for that. Social media has fueled an incessant need to seek reassurance from others and validation of our efforts. Our work is good only when others like it becomes the new mantra and the logic of measuring it against the goal posts or intrinsically being aware of it’s true worth is thrown out of the window. Happiness bubbles based on reassurance burst fast and when these bubbles taper down, with it comes loss of self worth and depression. Getting caught in a vicious cycle of likes is indeed a trap.


80’s and 90’s kids would recall the satire “Yes Prime Minister,” the first introduction to bureaucratese at its best or worst. It certainly is worth taking some tips from Sir Humphrey on how not to be “Yes Man.” I also do not recommend that in the zest to not be a “Yes Man,” one should go down the rebel path for the sake of being one or try to be the Master Spy in the Spy Universe movies who will often defy the boss while they save the world/country/leader.


My top 3 fundamentals to start learning how to stand up for yourself and not be a “Yes Man,” are:


1. KNOW YOUR CRAFT – EXUDE CONFIDENCE: Confidence comes from knowing your craft and the nuances of it. Ownership and Excellence are all around us. So many people from all walks of life stand out with their mastery over their craft. That is what me must aim as professionals. When you give a block of wood to a master carpenter and ask him to make a chair out of it, he will measure, check quality, estimate the requirement and give you a fairly good go/no go decision. Does a master answer without checking? The answer is clearly no. Seeking time as professionals to check before committing is not to be frowned upon as a weakness. Sharing the parameters to be checked and the process also generates confidence in our approach with stakeholders.


2. TRUST YOUR GUT – TAKE RISKS: This point may seem contradictory to the first one but is important to take high quality decisions swiftly. We live firmly in an age of big data. Even taking a holiday decision 3 months from now will get many of us to check the forecasted weather from any of the websites or apps which generate predictions based on previous years trends. Intuition is often dismissed as unreliable. Fact is that intuition coupled with analytical thinking leads to faster decision making. There is enough research to substantiate that the gut is our second brain, with 100 million neurons – way more than in our spinal cord. Gut feeling is real and developing our instincts to go with it is equally important to develop confidence in our decisions and learn to stand up for ourselves.


3. NEVER BE A COURIER – THINK FOR YOURSELF & DEFEND YOUR OPINIONS: I learnt this the hard way. As a rookie HR Business Partner for a finance team, in the first Compensation Cycle which happened around the time I had joined, my boss handed me a sealed manila envelope to be given to the CFO. I happily handed it over to the CFO, a diminutive man with a reputation that could shake corporate corridors. As he opened the envelope, out came the compensation proposal printout for his team. He asked me some questions. I had no answers, except “I will check and get back to you.” After the 5th such answer, he told me something valuable “You are a professional, not a courier.” No raised voices, no change in tone. But the fact that this was a legend telling me was shattering. Over the years that I worked with him, never ever did he pull rank and would eagerly seek to hear my opinion on all talent matters. He taught me to think for myself, defend my decisions and most importantly be comfortable with having my opinion while having the grace to manage conflict. For that I am forever indebted.


There’s give and take in all situations. The key is to recognize when enough is enough and stand up for one’s opinion and self-respect. Learning to say no need not be a conflict-ridden decision. Remind yourself of how you value your need to make a positive impact. Stay energized, focused as you learn to stand up for yourself and avoid becoming a “Yes Man.”

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