How to never say no, but not be a doormat

In many organizations, IT is viewed as the roadblock, the naysayers, the control freaks, the wet blanket, or the obstacle to any progress in the organization.

Don't believe me?  Get out and talk to a number of people who DON'T work in IT and see what they say.  Don't do it too long, or your self esteem is likely to take a hit. I smugly stand in my opinion.

So.. how do we shed such a negative opinion?

Several years ago, I had a friend that was brilliant (and was likely the model for the character of Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory).  He was so bright, that he often had the solution to a problem figured out long before the speaker was done explaining it.  And he was uncannily right most of the time.

His biggest problem?  If he heard something he disagreed with, he would mutter loud enough for the room to hear "Well, THAT'S STUPID!!".  Given that we were a company that provided consulting services, this was not particularly beneficial to winning new customers.

It was time for a coaching session.  "Sheldon" we said, "Perhaps the next time your brain thinks 'THAT'S STUPID', your mouth could say 'That's interesting!".  It worked like a charm. Customers were delighted in the fact that we were listening.  We were able to present brilliant solutions at the appropriate time that would solve the customer's issues, and we grew as a business.

This is a good example of how we can often send a message that gets in the way of what we are trying to do. In IT, we have many reasons why it may not be practical to do something at a given time.  Budget constraints, resources, alignment with strategic goals, are all things that would take priority over a given idea.

Some times, the idea isn't good, but often they are. The best place to identify the pain points in your processes is by talking to the people in the middle of the process. The ones that have to live with it.

So when they come to you with requests and ideas for things IT can do, it is often rooted in real need.

But we can't rush to implement every good idea, and end up saying no many times. Which enhances our negative reputation.

Like our Sheldon character above, there is a rather simple adjustment.  Instead of telling them that we can't do their project, think about responding with "That's a great idea!", then proceed to ask a few questions to establish some basic information.  "What's the budget we are working with?" is usually my first response along with "Is this part of another initiative?"

When it's a resource problem, I ask "Which of your current projects are you willing to delay to get this done?"

Of course the answers are very situation dependent, but you get what I mean.

So, your new lesson for today is: "Never say 'no', but be sure to put a price tag on 'yes'".


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