Yes-o-phobia: The fear of saying yes, often in the course of negotiating agreements. Usage example: “No.”
This phobia is more prevalent among those new to their field or job, but not exclusively to lesser experienced negotiators. It is also much more common among lower level staff than it is among principals or senior management. That’s because fear on the part of the phobicis not so much fear of giving up complete control over whatever may possibly happen in the future as it is a fear of being criticized by a superior. In law firms, “senior” partners, almost always, are willing to say “Yes” whereas newly minted attorneys and newly minted partners are commonly reticent.
And, if Ruminations is accurately hitting on a major reason why negotiations take too long and needlessly get people agitated, then why don’t we do something about it? One answer is that the side receiving the “No” is also afraid to say “Yes” when it comes to its turn to be realistic and reasonable. A more significant answer is that the side receiving the “No” has no ability to address the “real” issue, i.e., to address the organizational climate within which her or his counterpart is operating.
We’ve used this example before. What’s the difference if the “Event of Default” happens three days or ten days after the date a payment became due? Would any landlord evict a tenant because the rent frequently arrived five days late? Only those with yes-o-phobia would insist: “Yes.” The reason is because the landlord’s negotiator (in this example) would hear only one of the following three comments (criticisms?) from the boss: (a) that was a smart thing to do, giving the obligee 10 days; (b) nothing at all; or (c) why did you go out and do that, don’t you know we only allow three days? Readers, which one is the one that no one ever hears?
Perhaps those negotiating leases or loans for others should do their homework before starting the process. By homework, we’re thinking that we should all have an open discussion with the ultimate decision makers to find out in advance what items are truly not negotiable other than by the opposing decision makers. Within law firms, this is more easily done than within most business firms. Junior legal staff should be able to ask senior legal staff: “do we really care if it is 10 days instead of 3 days” instead of fearing that it will. It might make sense in firms with “departments” for this to be the subject of department meetings. Although attorneys like to think of themselves as independent thinkers and fully able to work through almost everything without external assistance (because to ask for this kind of permission might suggest a “lack of ability”), this approach hurts clients. Similarly, within businesses, negotiators of repetitive-type agreements fear that asking “permission” [which we would laud as “getting accurate instructions”] indicates incompetence.
It isn’t that the fear of saying “Yes” isn’t “rational,” but we’re suggesting that it’s often “rational” in the sense that it puts the interests of the negotiator over those of the principals. “My job or position is more important that the interests of the person I represent.” There is nothing unexpected or evil about this. After all, it allows all of us “to live another day.” But, shouldn’t some efforts be made to reconcile both interests? We’ve already suggested that negotiators work on getting defined boundaries within which to work. We would also suggest that negotiators readily admit when some issue (even a possibly trivial issue) is “above one’s pay grade.” There shouldn’t be a lot of shame in telling one’s counterpart that such and such issue is not one within your bailiwick to resolve (even if you are the bailiff) at that very point in time and that you’ll get back to her or him later.
By no means is Ruminations suggesting that “fear of disapprobation” is the only impediment to saying “Yes” when “Yes” should be said. In earlier musings we’ve suggested that instead of saying “No” when one doesn’t understand an issue (often the specific laws or physical constraints involved), a negotiator should confess that she or he needs to review the law or the circumstances and get back with a response later. It isn’t a weakness to know and admit that you don’t have an answer at any given moment. It is a strength that shows respect for the issues at hand and for the other person in the conversation. In the purported words of Socrates of ancient Greek fame: “Admitting one’s ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.”
This topic begs for input from readers. Do you agree or disagree? Is what we’ve written a central understanding of why we don’t hear a “Yes” when a “Yes” is the appropriate response or is it only a scratch on the surface? Tell your colleagues what you think by adding your thoughts in the place below provided for comments.