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Happens all the time. You, or one of your team, suggests a new idea and another person immediately and assertively says “Yeah-but…”


  • We don’t have any budget for that
  • We’ll never get approval to do it
  • We’ve always done it this way
  • It’s too risky – nobody’s ever done that before
  • What will others think?
  • What if we fail?

Here are some classics:

  • “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” - Western Union internal memo, 1899
  • “Guitar music is on the way out.” – Decca Records turning down the Beatles, 1962
  • “If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.” – Spencer Silver, originator of Post-it® Notepads

Yeah-buts are idea and energy killers. They often stop the seed of a great idea in its tracks before it has any time to develop and can make the person presenting the idea feel dismissed.

The problem here is the timing.  When Yeah-buts hit a fledgling idea head on – they typically act as a bucket of cold water.  Hold off on the yeah-buts at the start. Let the idea be considered, rolled around, and validated as a useful possibility worthy of pursuit. Then, when you decide that it is a candidate for action, the Yeah-buts become practical issues that will test and shape the idea. This will then lead to the idea either gaining momentum or being abandoned. But the idea has a chance.

Reality check.  Not all ideas are worthy of pursuit. In fact, most brainstorming ideas don’t make the first cut. But some should and need time to develop. Don’t nip them in the bud.

What to do when someone "Yeah-buts..." Respond with “What-ifs...”  You could say, “I hear you – those are reasonable concerns. For the moment, though, let’s set them aside and ask ourselves:

  • What if we could do this?
  • What if we could get the budget and approvals?
  • What value would this idea bring to us?
  • How would this idea make things better for our stakeholders and for us?
  • Could this make our work easier and more efficient?

New ideas are fragile - give them a chance to grow. 

Action Steps: 

  • Next time you hear a “Yeah-but” try a “What if” response and see what happens
  • How would your team benefit by slowing down “Yeah-buts”?
  • Do you "Yeah-but" outside of work - with family, friends?

Charles St.John

P.S. Tell me what you think – add your comments below.

  • The Watcher says:

    Enjoyed your article!

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