27 September 2023

Where the ‘but’ stops: Beware the boss who deals in faint praise

Start the conversation

Bruce Kasanoff* characterises the ‘Yes, But’ boss who kills innovation with faint praise and strong negativity.

“Yes, I know you’ve worked really hard on this project.

“But I’m not sure it’s going to be helpful.”

This must be the fifth time this year that you spent a month doing what your boss told you to do, only to have him respond with a faint acknowledgement of your effort followed by a strong negative reaction.

He never builds on your talent. He never joins the creative process.

He just waits until the end and subtly chips away at your work.

You’re working for a Yes, But Boss.

These people are everywhere. They might be well meaning. They might be smart.

The challenge, however, is that they are stuck in the mode of being critical rather than creative.

They identify problems, but don’t solve them.

In many cases, they are driven by fear, rather than opportunity.

“Yes, I know this is a very innovative new project, but it is very risky and we don’t want to jeopardise our funding.”

See how “yes, but…” leads to stagnation? See how it is rooted in fear?

“Yes, but…” will stop your career in its tracks. That’s why you never want to work for a Yes, But Boss.

Instead, find a Yes, And Boss.

“Yes, and…” is the cornerstone of improvisation comedy (often simply called improv), and it is also a brilliant way to succeed in business.

In improv — where the actors on stage have to make up a comedy routine — the cardinal rule is to always accept and then build on what the actor before you did or said.

Imagine that your fellow actor, Linda, is pretending to be a hunting guide on the African plains who has just revealed she is afraid of guns.

Under the “yes, and…” rules, you can’t say: “That’s ridiculous! How could you be a hunting guide if you don’t like guns?”

Instead, you say something like: “Yes, and I was so touched by your No Guns Hunting Kickstarter campaign, and we are so excited to bring all 2,522 backers here tomorrow.”

In the same manner, a Yes, And Boss will always build on your talents.

They will solve the problems that cause you trouble.

They function as a partner, rather than as a critic.

If you look at the most successful entrepreneurs and executives, they remain excited by the creative process.

They aren’t critics; they are creators and co-creators.

A Yes, And Boss makes you better, and accelerates your career.

Even if you are at the very bottom of the career ladder, you get to decide whether to personally operate as a Yes, But or a Yes, And person.

See if you can guess which will serve your future better.

*Bruce Kasanoff is a ghostwriter for entrepreneurs. He is the author of How to Grow Your Career by Helping Others.

This article first appeared at Kasanoff.com

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.