Last week, in his "Moving On" column in the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Zaslow wrote about the good old days when saying "maybe" was an option. Referring to the overzealous who zoom through life saying, "Yes!" as in "Yes, you can" and "Yes, I can," and "No is not in my vocabulary," he tells us that the yes people, those motivational experts who believe in the power of one itty, bitty word think that those in the "no" camp just want to rain on the yes campers´ parades. That´s not to say that the "no" people are completely without a sense of humor.
I think there is something to this no stuff. Of course if your boss asks you to get something done and you respond with a bold, "No," well, we know what might happen. But what Zaslow ultimately asks is whatever happened to maybe. In a lot of stress management workshops (one that I teach anyway) we hear about the option of saying no or maybe when asked to do something. I´ll ask a group, for instance, if anyone ever says yes too often and people usually nod their head, laugh, and say, "Oh, yeah." But we all realize that when we say yes too often we take on way more than we can handle and that can get us into trouble-in our work lives and our personal lives. Sometimes we say yes as much as we can on the job, because we fear that if we don´t someone else will get the glory and we´ll be viewed as a "can´t do" person versus one that can. But, again, if we take on too much we can not only get in over our heads but risk never being given another chance. So what do we do?
That´s when "maybe" can be a viable option. Of course I´m not suggesting that you be coy with your supervisor and, when asked if you can do something, you say, "Maybe." I´m talking more about an attitude, a chance to think about what someone is asking and really considering whether or not you can do it, when you can get it done, how likely you are to complete it in a satisfactory way. In other words, I think it´s okay in some circumstances to ask if you can let someone know, later, whether or not you can achieve what needs to get done. Otherwise, you really do risk setting yourself (and maybe others) up for failure. "Maybe" doesn´t always translate into weakness or indecision.