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Before You Say "Yes," Say "No" + Disagreement as an Opportunity to Grow

September 27, 2017


Before You Say "Yes," Say "No"

A common problem for driven, Type-A "pushers" is when quality gets sacrificed for quantity. The more you enjoy your work and the better you become at it, the more opportunities you'll have. The temptation is to say yes, bring it on, especially if the opportunities are good ones. But as I've written before, you can't do it all; something's gotta give—whether that something is the quality of your work, health, relationships, or time for solitude and reflection.  

In the moment, when you're faced with an exciting new opportunity, that's all there is. You see the positives, because they are in plain view, but you don't always see the tradeoffs. A good way to bring more awareness to the decision to take on additional endeavors is to ask yourself a simple yet powerful question: If I say yes to this, to what am I saying no? 

You can ask this question on multiple horizons: over the course of a day; a week; a month; or even a year. Sometimes, the answer is truly is nothing, there is no sacrifice. Perhaps you've got some fluff built into your schedule, or you've grown your capacity to do work. But more often than not, there is a sacrifice. This doesn't mean it's not a sacrifice worth making, but it does mean you should bring it out into the open so that you can thoughtfully evaluate it.

Is the new project worth giving up weekend time with my partner and kids? Two hours of nightly sleep? The mentoring relationship I have with my junior colleague? The quality of my other work?


The point isn't that the answer is always the same, but that you ask the question. Otherwise, you're liable to find yourself on autopilot, constantly expanding yourself, until you realize that you're about to experience a quality crash—and by then there's nothing you can do to stop the momentum. 

There's a big benefit to mapping out your days, weeks, months, and years. Don't worry about being overly precise, but identify the important activities and objectives. Then, when new and exciting opportunities arise, ask yourself: By saying yes to this, to what am I saying no? 

Time is arguably the most precious resource there is. We ought to be intentional about how we spend it. 


Disagreement as an Opportunity to Grow


Red or blue, Republican or Democrat, religious or not—the United States is a country that is divided. This is not a political newsletter, and I will not be taking sides. But when divisiveness and intense disagreement takes hold, an interesting and predictable phenomenon occurs. We stop thinking critically, instead relying on our "beliefs," which often correspond to whatever "label" we, or others, have put upon ourselves.

When we are faced with someone who disagrees with us, our inclination is to go on the defensive, making our stand against any thought or idea that the opposing party puts forth. When trapped in defensive mode, we shut out any possibility of considering the other side, or, in many cases, of any rational thinking at all. Instead of trying to figure out what is "correct," when in defensive mode, all that matters is that we "win" the argument and our beliefs stand firmly intact. From disagreement to defense—that's the default transition we often make.

But what if instead of falling victim to our natural inclination, disagreement signaled an opportunity? A chance to better understand yourself and others? To try and figure out how the person sitting across from you came to see the world in a different light than you? Is it their upbringing or some other aspect of their culture? Why do they have such strong feelings on the subject? Why do you? Asking such questions—and in particular, trying to understand why the seemingly illogical view of the person you do not agree with is logical in their head—helps not only to create understanding but also to push your own thinking, forcing you to confront your own bias and rationale for your viewpoint. Hearing opposing arguments should not be seen as harmful or an attack, but rather, as an opportunity to refine your own belief system; to rise above groupthink and the default of always just falling in line with whatever label you have selected for yourself.

This is the exact mindset that legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich professes with his diverse team. A
recent article outlining his philosophy stated that Popovich believes that "curiosity about people—especially those unlike yourself—provides not only a foundation for cultural literacy but also the building blocks of a better team."

In a world that is divisive, where we are being pushed further and further towards opposing sides, seeing the other side, having empathy, and taking a minute to attempt to understand others is desperately needed. Instead of turning towards arguments and hate, we should turn towards empathy and self-evaluation. Instead of falling back on the uncritical default setting of a Republican/Democrat (or whatever the case may be) "label," which pushes us away from thinking and towards tribalism and conformity, we need to stop, take a minute, and think about the human being sitting across from us and the human being within us.

Disagreements are not bad. They are opportunities to learn, to grow, and to understand. Or, as Coach Popovich believes: "Unfamiliar ideas are to be explored, then discussed with those who will challenge your assumptions honestly." This message holds true whether your debating politics or coaching philosophies. Defense is closed and narrow. Only an open mind can grow.


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