What Partners Really Mean When They Say ‘Yes’ to Your Idea

Board Room of the Admiralty

They’re saying ‘yes’ – but what does it mean?

When I was a younger man – rather more innocent and naive than I am now – I can remember the delight at getting a unanimous ‘yes’ from the board members of my firm to a big culture-changing project.

I was wise enough to ask for specific reactions and comments from the more conservative board members. But, at the time, I can remember that I distinctly heard a ‘yes’ from each of them.

Six months later, when the project ground into a quagmire, I tried to work out what had happened and where I might have gone wrong.

The answer is clear to me now. When they had said ‘yes’, they weren’t saying yes to the idea. They weren’t saying ‘Yes – It’s a good idea. Let’s go ahead. It’s got my full endorsement. I’ll back it all the way!’. They were just saying ‘Yes – I hear you!’

And the clue is obvious. If the partners aren’t communicating at at least a level of 9 out of 10 enthusiasm, they’re not sufficiently enthused about the idea to help make it a success.

What I now do in similar situations, if I sense there’s only a lukewarm acceptance, is say something like, ‘I’m sensing there may be some concerns and this initiative is going to need your full commitment…..’ The ensuing silence usually flushes out what was being thought but wasn’t being said.

I then deal with any of the underlying concerns.

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