Have you ever made a promise to do something in the future, and then immediately regretted it? Or even worse, failed to live up to a commitment because you said “yes” once too often? Of course you have. We all do this from time-to-time, saddling ourselves with more work than time (Note to self: apologize to my wife for not cleaning the garage). Psychologists call this the “yes, damn” effect.
- Fear of losing the deal
- Respect for authority
- Need for power (“they will owe me big time”)
- Need to be liked
People are also bad at predicting the future. According to Gal Zauberman from the Wharton School of Business, we are psychologically biased to believe we’ll have more time in the future than we do today. The farther in the future the commitment, the easier it is to say “yes”. The problem is this: we really don’t have more time in the future! Monday next month will be as busy as Monday this week.
Combining a penchance for “yes” with a weakness at future planning is a bad recipe for execution. Here are four tricks that make it easier to say “no” and plan more effectively:
- Double all time estimates. This trick is a classic consultant trick. If you think the commitment is going to require two hours, then assume four hours before you say “yes”.
- Ask yourself: could I do it tomorrow? Since you likely won’t have more time next month than tomorrow, consider whether you would say “yes” if the commitment came due tomorrow. Would it be worth re-arranging your schedule tomorrow? If the answer is “no” for tomorrow, it should probably be “no” in the future too.
- Delay. We’re more likely to say “yes” if we are surprised. The best strategy is to delay responding. “I’ll check my schedule and get back to you” buys time to make the right decision without pressure.
- Make no mean no. Don’t waffle! Once you start down the path of “well, maybe I could if…” your ship is sunk.