I really feel like most of us want to help other people, whatever that looks like. There are numerous examples in our personal lives, but at work, helping (to us) can look like raising our hand for a project or being in a client service capacity getting whatever your client needs.

Many of these acts of service start with an ask by the other party. Is saying “yes” to each ask, even with the best intentions, the best way to serve that person or group?

I would say no.

Learning From A Two-Year-Old

Last night, our two-year-old daughter walked up to me, pointed to her mouth and said “eat, eat.” It was getting close to dinner time anyway so we made our way to the kitchen. Campbell walked up to a cake sitting on the counter and said “Cake please. Cake please.”

She did do something right. She asked politely. She was hungry. From her research and own personal experience, she felt that eating a slice of chocolate ganache cake was the best solution to her current hunger needs.

My wife and I were the subject matter experts put in charge for this particular engagement. Campbell really wanted cake. She would’ve been really happy with us had we just said yes and given her what she asked for. Honestly, it would have been easier in the short term to just say yes, give her cake, and move onto the next thing on our household to-do list.

But we said no. Megan and I knew she wasn’t asking the right questions. She was asking for cake, when we really knew she was just hungry and needed something to satisfy her hunger. Instead of cake, we gave her lasagna and homemade bread. Still a fantastic solution to her hunger (it was the same solution we used for ours). Not cake but made her satisfied enough to the point that she forgot she wanted cake.

Make Sure to Ask the Right Questions

We knew that Campbell was hungry so we didn’t probe and ask her “what problem are you trying to solve for?”

However, it is a question worth asking most of the time. Dig in and try and discover the answer to this question: What problem are you trying to solve for?

It’s especially true in the marketing and technology space. You may a client that says “I need a new website” or “we need a Snapchat account.” A patient may walk into a doctor’s office after seeing a TV ad and say “I need X prescription.”

It may be easier to say yes. You have a long to-do list. It’s not worth the battle. Just check this box and move onto the next thing.

After all, the customer is always right…right?


Dig in and try and find out what it is your client/customer actually needs. They may be a little annoyed at first because you’re not saying yes. Make sure they’re asking the right questions. After all, you’re the subject matter expert tasked with helping them. Dig in and figure out how you can truly best serve them.

You’re also not saying “no.” You’re saying “no, but…”

“No, but what may work better could be _____. “

“No, but have you ever thought of _____?“

Often times the alternative solution you provide will actually make the client/customer happier than their original ask. A “No, but…” can keep you from over promising and under delivering.

Think of the Downstream Effect of “Yes”

I mentioned that it would’ve been easier to just say “yes” to Campbell when she asked for cake. Way easier. At least at first. There would’ve been longer term consequences down the road.

  • We learned on Halloween that she comes down from sugar really badly (she gets mean).

  • She would’ve been much more difficult to put to bed

  • Potential belly ache from eating sugar without other better foods

Saying yes could be easier in the short term. In fact, many times it likely is. But it could come with longer term negative consequences. Every “yes,” no matter the situation, has a downstream effect.

Saying yes will put you on the hook for the success or failure of whatever you said yes to, even if it wasn’t your idea to begin with. That alone could have you desperately trying to revive new life into a dying tactic that didn’t need to exist in the first place .

Every yes also has a ripple effect on the people around you. Sure, you feel like you can handle whatever ask. However, any yes I provide someone always:

  • Take me away from other more mission critical tasks

  • Put pressure on other teammates that I may need help from to get the task done

  • Reduce attention and time I spend with family because I’m too busy playing catch-up from over-committing myself

We should always try and put ourselves in a place of service to others. Often times that does indeed saying “yes” and trying to figure out a way to make things happen. However, a well thought out “no, but…” could help everyone even more in the long run.

What are your thoughts on saying “yes”?