Seven years ago, on a hill overlooking Portland, I taught fifteen medical students how to apologize. It wasn’t part of their curriculum. It wasn’t why I was invited to speak.
But life is about seizing opportunities. In this case, the opportunity was to transform the grief of losing a child into a teachable moment. Not by lecturing. Not even by telling a story. But by cajoling future doctors to say out loud the words I wished I had heard six months before.
What followed was a test case for the notion that you are what you say—and that what you say matters—a lot.
The invitation came from an OB/GYN known in the community for being compassionate with patients, particularly those with difficult pregnancies. He wasn’t our physician, but he heard about us through the grapevine. And we knew him by reputation.
Many people want you to stop saying “Yes” to everything. It’s overloading your life, sapping your energy, and keeping you from doing the meaningful stuff. Jeff Goins calls this “the small but soul-crushing word you use every day.”
Their solution? Say “No.”
This recommendation isn’t wrong, just incomplete. What it leaves out are two other legitimate responses to requests. By incorporating these into your repertoire, you not only free yourself from overscheduling. You also live a bigger life.
The virtues of saying “No”
Let’s give “No” its due. If you’re the kind of person who agrees to everything, making more frequent use of “No” helps you:
One of my favorite $10,000 phrases is “help me understand.” In this post, I describe why this phrase produces powerful leadership conversations, when to use it, and how to incorporate it into your day-to-day communication.
Why say “help me understand”
This phrase has three important purposes:
After reading my last column about how Wall Street values strong leadership, a colleague who coaches Fortune 500 CEOs told me he wasn’t fond of the phrase “monetizing human assets.” This language, he told me, suggests a view of human beings that is precisely the opposite of what he is working to promote. Was I aware of this?
I was and am, so let me round out the picture. Humans are wonderfully complex miracles of creation, and this is true even when our behaviors get distorted by organizational cultures outside of us and personality patterns within us. Even as we serve organizations, it is crucial that organizations serve us. Any language that suggests we are objects to be manipulated should be used cautiously if at all.
In retrospect, by quoting a professor using the phrase “monetizing human assets”–and not offering my own caveat or disclaimer–I was not practicing sufficient caution.
What I was trying to do is offer a provocative perspective to my readers. Isn’t it wildly surprising that Wall Street adjusts its valuation of companies based upon the perceived quality of those companies’ leadership? I think so. And the implications are enormous. This is why my colleague who expressed such distaste for the language also said he would be spending more time with his CEO clients physically and emotionally preparing for visits to Wall Street–perhaps even joining them during these visits to provide coaching in the “in between” moments.