Be a Yes-Person

Everyone hates a Yes-man. A flunkie, a stooge, a sycophant.  But there’s another type of “yes-person” that’s good. In fact, I believe there are two types of people – Yes-people and No-people. And, especially in business, you want to surround yourself with the “yeses” and avoid the “nos”.

A No-person isn’t just someone who doesn’t say yes. They’re afraid of new ideas and find ways to ridicule them and undermine them. They come up with reason after reason for not doing things – “we tried that already”, “it will never work”, “the client won’t buy it”. They’re threatened by the success and confidence of others. So they sap energy and undermine other peoples’ efforts.

On the other hand, Yes-people are full of energy and excitement – and enthusiastically open to new ideas. They are supportive and help build on them. And they listen, collaborate and help succeed. Teams full of Yes-people win – good luck if you’ve got a team full of No-people. Speaking about team success, a member of the British Royal Marines said, “It’s not about skills. It’s about attitude and the effect on the team. One wrong team player can sap all the energy from the group.”

So how do you be a Yes-person?

Do stuff. Say yes to doing things, trying things, helping with things. Read about new ideas and stay current. Keep up to date on culture, entertainment, science, politics. And get out there and be present – physically and mentally. This keeps your yes-muscle exercised.

Exchange “no, but…” with “yes, and…” Be open to ideas you haven’t had before or wouldn’t normally agree with – and phrase your comments and builds in a way that is additive and overcomes potential issues, vs. tossing out roadblocks and hand-grenades. Don’t let negative thoughts kill the seedlings of ideas before they’re allowed to germinate a bit. And if you have prior experience or knowledge that identifies watch-outs, use it as a way to avoid mistakes and difficulties.

Be the dumbest person in the room. One potential issue leading to “no-ism” is some people’s need to be the smartest. Instead, you should happily surround yourself with smarter people, and feel confident in your role as helping to facilitate other people’s greatness and success. And never worry about ownership or proprietariness of ideas – a Yes-person just wants good things to happen, regardless of credit.

Be solution-focused. Don’t spend much energy or time focused on what is WRONG. Instead, get people directed on what needs to happen to make it right. Too much time, especially in groups, is spent on grousing and carping about the problem and the blame. Energize and infuse your teams with optimism about what is possible.

Be a “first responder” for those needing help. Another exercise for your “yes-muscle” is helping others. Have an open door to people looking for help or advice, regardless of whether they are directly on your team. Join groups, cross-functional teams, and skunk-works projects that are developing innovations or providing organizational recommendations. Be viewed as someone who is involved and wants to participate.

Be a “Radiator”. Another simple segmentation of people is there are “Radiators” and “Drains”. You can imagine what a Drain does. So always be a Radiator – radiate energy, enthusiasm, and possibility. And smile, dammit!

Avoid the seduction of the No. It’s easy to fall into the “no” trap. To build on the carping and the pessimism. But don’t take the bait. Steer clear of the negativity, brush off the comments, and stay focused on building yeses.

So the next time you’re on a team project, focus on being a Yes-person – and do your best to contain the No-people. Better yet, avoid them altogether, if you can.

Love to hear stories about your No-people!


  1. Love this, especially the idea of being the dumbest person in the room (a virtue I need to practice more often). I am reminded of two sentiments. One from Anthony de Mello, the Jesuit psychotherapist and pontifical heretic, who said knowledge comes from “dropping one’s opinions”; and the other from my current play-writing teacher who paraphrases the dramatist and producer Moss Hart when he says, “No one ever learns how to write a play, they just learn how to write the play they are currently writing.” These two ideas help me transcend the compulsion towards answers that usually is nothing more than an exercise in image management. Good stuff.

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