Being realistic about “Yes, and…”

Every now and again, you read a heartwarming story about a client who needed something and the customer service associate who went above and beyond. You know the story: He wanted the gift wrapped, they didn’t wrap presents, so a heroic associate went downtown, bought some wrapping paper, came back and wrapped it and everybody thought that was great. And you know what? It was great. It was really great. But then a lot of other executives read the story and said, “Why don’t we provide that level of customer service?” They sent out some memos. And then they laid off a few people because if you’ve got eyes, fingers, a mouth and ears, you should be able to do an online live chat and take a phone call at the same time and the company could use those savings…

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t go above and beyond for your customers. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t keep an eye on costs. I’m saying that you have to align your resources, what you want to be able to do and what you’re willing to pay to do. And if there are trade-offs, you have to be prepared to deal with that.

I recently encountered the phrase, “Yes, and…” in the context of brainstorming. And it was lovely, there, a way to encourage the acceptance of any ideas as a starting point for investigating the world’s possibilities. But I’ve also encountered, “Yes, and…” in the context of closing sales. And there, it can turn into a nightmare of overpromising and underdelivering. Because the truth is that while it’s important to be open to new possibilities, it’s also important to set limits. I am writing about this here, on a career communication blog, because you need to know that if you don’t modify your communication approach as you move from the brainstorming phase of a communication arc to the solidifying details phase, you’re setting yourself up to overpromise, underdeliver and become known as unreliable.

So, let’s talk a little about this. It’s important, especially because depending on your culture and background, there may be places where speaking up feels a little too natural – you want to be gentle during the brainstorming phase – or possibly rude – you need to set limits, even on people who outrank you or are buying from you during the finalization of details.

Brainstorming phrases:

  • Interesting idea! What if…
  • Yes, we should do something about that. How would you…
  • I like that. Is there a way to…

Details phrases:

  • Do you want to do X, or is Y more important?
  • We can add X, but only if we increase Y to cover the cost.
  • Doing X and Y could be redundant. Which one should we keep?

And, for the details phase, there’s one more important thing you have to be willing to say: We can only promise to do our part if you do your part. Please initial here to confirm that you understand this.

Whether you are working with colleagues, clients or even friends or family, an essential part of communication is being open to try new things but prepared to set limits on just what you can or are willing to do. Just like a company, if you really want to be full service, you have to be willing to invest the time and resources to go above and beyond: desire is not enough. And just like a company, if you want to be known for delivering, you have to only promise what you can deliver.

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