Guillermo de la Puente

Getting others to act with No-Oriented Questions


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Minion. Photo by Jonas Stolle on Unsplash
Minion. Photo by Jonas Stolle on Unsplash

A few years ago, I read the book Never Split the Difference. One of the tips that stayed with me is to Make “No” Work For You.

I used to struggle to get my peers to do the things I needed them to do. Some examples:

  • Could you please read this document before the end of the week?

  • Can you please review and approve this pull request?

  • Could you look into fixing that flaky unit test?

Depending on the communication channel, I frequently didn’t receive a response, or got a “yes” that lacked commitment. It was frustrating!

The technique that has improved my ability to influence others has been asking no-oriented questions. It consists on wording a question in a way that makes the other person say no. For example:

  • Are you going to skip reading the document?

  • Is it okay if I merge the pull request without your review?

  • Are you going to let the unit test continue being flaky?

The answer, in most cases, will be no. The person often knows that otherwise they’d look too disengaged or unprofessional. This format has helped me in getting someone else’s commitment. And when not, it has surfaced their reason for not acting, like lack of alignment or understanding the context.

You can read more about this technique in the blog post Communication Skills: 3 Ways To Make “No” Work For You.

Iteration: No-Oriented Questions for oneself

Recently, asking myself no-oriented questions has motivated me to get done tedious but impactful tasks I felt lazy about. Am I going to leave this email unanswered? Am I not going to support my peers in preparing this presentation? Am I not going to go the extra mile to give context for my teams, so they can plan the upcoming quarters?

Those prompts, especially when picturing my manager asking me that question, have given me the push to get those things done quickly.

May this tip serve you well!

Minion Kite. Photo by Rene Vincit on Unsplash
Minion Kite. Photo by Rene Vincit on Unsplash

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