Sunday, July 6, 2008

Beware of the Double Yes Syndrome!

The double yes is a communication phenomena. It's two or more people making an agreement, and making the same agreement again. For example:

Person A: Let's have lunch next Friday, at 12:30 at The New Great Cafe.

Person B: Yes, let's do that.

[a few days pass]
[Late Wednesday or Thursday B send an email message to A]

B: "Are we still on for lunch on Friday."
A: [reply]. "Yes."

What just happened? If you think this is a single agreement to have lunch you will sometimes find yourself in a confusing conflict (for both parties) with someone who sees this as a double agreement.

Look again in slow motion ...

Person A: Let's have lunch next Friday, at 12:30 at The New Great Cafe.

Person B: Yes, let's do that. Alert! This is an agreement or promise. With a person needing only a single "yes" this completes the planning. With someone unconsciously using a double yes pattern, this just starts the planning.

[a few days pass]
[Late Wednesday or Thursday email from Person B to A.]

B: "Are we still on for lunch on Friday." Alert! Too little time left. Person A may be busy, distracted, or away from email. This is B's effort to complete the planning.

A: [reply]. "Yes." A is replying a "confirmation" but is confused because he or she already felt that the lunch appointment had been made and settled.

Can you see how this pattern can wreck havoc? What if A misses the email yet still goes to the restaurant as agreed. B doesn't show. When asked later, B says "well, you didn't confirm."

That's just two people, this pattern can ring throughout a board, team or organization.

Most rules of order, such as Robert's Rules of Order (RROO) and Consensus decision making, rely on a single yes philosophy. The streamlined pattern (for RROO) is motion, second, discussion, amendments, voting. The assembly has made its decision: basically it passes (yes), or fails (no). There's no provision for additional "confirmations" of the vote.

I live in Seattle, a city particularly prone to the "double yes syndrome." Many people who grew up here or anywhere along the west coast live with the yes-yes pattern. People from single yes cultures like the South, Midwest and Eastern parts of the USA find themselves intermittently clashing with their yes-yes colleagues, friends and neighbors.

What's going on here? I finally found my answers (I'm a single-yes guy in a double-yes town) in a Wiley Business paperback I snagged for one $ at the Exchange (salvaged stuff from the town dump) on Orcas Island. The book? I Wish I'd Said That by Linda McCallister, PhD.

She has three main communication styles I'm going to rename Direct, Complete and Comfortable (her names were Noble, Socratic and Reflective). The Direct style translate in this case to the single yes camp. These communicators seek to quickly "cut to the chase," state their feelings and opinions briefly and expect the same candor from you, will vigorously argue a position until a decision is reached then implement (whether won or lost), and consider talking about details a waste of time.

The Comfortable style of communicators are the double-yessers in our little fable. This communication style prefers to help other people feel cozy in the exchange, skirts conflict, and will smile and agree though inwardly in disagreement. So a first yes means "sure, I'm comfortable making this plan." The confirmation step is when Comfortables get real, "Do we really intend to do this?"

To round it out, the Completes talk to every point and leave nothing unstated. They enjoy ideas, and don't want to think anything has been overlooked. This means they are likely to be a single-yes styled person due to the completeness of the initial discussion. something like ...

A (Direct): Let's grab lunch downtown on Friday and catch-up.
B (Complete): Hm, will there be any games that day snarling traffic. B imagines likely complicating factors.

A: Oh, Not sure, let's meet then in Capitol Hill, I need the exercise anyway.
B: Might rain. Perhaps A has not thought about walking uphill in the rain.

A: Rain or shine. How about meeting me at Tres Cool Cooks, they do a fabulous lunch.
B: All right, see you there 12:30?

A: Deal.
B. See you then.

What to do?

Myself, being a Direct, would have everybody communicate yes once, record it in their calendars and then show up. I'm always forgetting the double-yes pattern. When I can remember I verbally make the first communication the completion of the plan: Okay, you are sure you can make it? As far as I'm concerned this is the confirmation right now because I'll be there.

If you are a Comfortable, you will have to learn that telling people the truth will not send them running from the room never to speak to you again. Let's say in this scenario you may need to use that time for a project, but you don't want to upset your friend. Here's a hint: people are never disappointed with the truth at the planning stage. You're not showing or using a lack of confirmation as a plea to explain not showing up could trigger unpleasant reactions in others. Something you know you want to avoid.

Assume when someone proposes a specific activity, date, time and place they mean it. Take out your calendar or imagine how you anticipate that day working for you. Take a breath and decide whether you can do it or not, right now, not later. If you can't do, say so, and propose a different arrangement. [Geez, I have to be in an important meeting at work that we haven't found a date for yet. It could fall on Friday. Tuesday will work better for me.]

If you like to keep your options open, inform the other person you will take the initiative and confirm by a particular time.

B: I'd like to confirm this on Thursday, I don't know how that Friday will work out.
A: Well, I'm in meeting all day Thursday. If you change your mind, it helps to both call and email me. I don't always check email after a long day.

B: All right.

More resources:

A blog entry on these styles (with the names McCallister used)

Publishers information on the book

Enjoy finding out whether you are a single or double-yes agreement maker and let me know the results in the comments area.


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