How to deal with “yes people” colleagues

How to deal with “yes people” colleagues

We’ve probably all worked with a “yes person” at some point in our careers. If someone has a bad idea, the yes person says it’s terrific. They tell you what they think you want to hear and have a strong tendency to withhold any bad news in fear that you will shoot the messenger.

A yes person is generally the type that looks out for #1 (themself) and tends to lack a backbone in any situation involving conflict or a difference of opinion. They aren’t necessarily trying to cause any harm, but rather prefer to “go with the flow.” A yes person is definitely not the type to think outside the box or color outside the lines, but instead they have a strong desire to be liked and included.

For example, let’s say you have an idea to hire an outside agency to manage the company’s website that will provide a faster turnaround time and better quality. You run it by the yes person who says that sounds great and that you should definitely present the idea to the boss. When you present the idea to your boss, the boss is noticeably upset that you would even suggest this. Later you find out the yes person knew the current website manager is the boss’s niece.

You are probably not going to be able to change a yes person’s behavior, so the better tactic is to learn to live with them. Here are ten tried and true ways to deal with the yes person in your office, so you can deduce how they really feel about something and encourage them to share information—whether it’s something you want to hear or not.

  1. Give your yes person colleague an out

    Rather than just asking their opinion as to whether a customer presentation, for example, is bad or good say, “ I know you have a lot of expertise in this area, so I was wondering if you could look this over and make some suggestions on how it could be improved.” This will also give them time to study it and not have to come up with a quick opinion.

  2. Ask your yes person coworker why and how

    Don’t just ask “yes or no” questions when you are trying to get someone’s opinion on a written report, group project or a new procedure. Instead, say something like, “Can you suggest any ideas for shortening the lead time on processing vendor payments?” Ask more “why” and “how come” questions to encourage them to express their ideas.

  3. Make frequent check-ins

    For those who agree to help out on a project but really have no intention of doing any work, try making frequent check-ins and ask if they really do have time to work on this given their “busy schedule.” Reassure them that it is OK to say “no” and that it would be helpful to say so upfront to ensure the project can stay on track.

  4. Show your yes person coworker how it’s done

    Many times a colleague is afraid to admit they don’t know how to do something but will tell you they will do it anyway. Again give them an out by saying, “I’m sure you’ve done this before but just in case it’s been a while I can show you a few shortcuts.”

  5. Talk with your yes person colleague

    Have a heart-to-heart talk over lunch or a drink after work with your yes colleague about how it made you feel when they said something looked fine and later you found out they withheld valuable information.

  6. Reward innovators and communicators

    Suggest to your boss that those who come up with innovative ideas for doing things better or communicate well with the group be rewarded publicly. This will help send the message that just going along with how the business has always done something in order to avoid conflict or trouble is not the best way to get ahead.

  7. Remain calm when receiving bad news

    Keep your emotions in check when someone delivers bad news. If you yell and scream, they will be hesitant to do it again in fear of upsetting you. Make it clear that honesty will always be appreciated and never punished.

  8. Watch out for yes people who make you look bad

    Beware of colleagues who intentionally want to make you look bad by withholding information or agreeing with you on everything. If it happens once it will happen again, so avoid these people at all costs.

  9. Encourage the yes person to speak up one on one

    A yes person might be reluctant to speak up in a group setting, especially if they disagree with something. Encourage them to speak with you privately if they have any concerns or ideas about the direction the group is taking. Again, ask probing questions with “why?” and “how come?” rather than those that can be answered with a “yes” or “no.”

  10. Try not to hire yes people in the first place

    If you are part of the interview process, ask the job candidate a question or express a point of view that you know is wrong and look for their reaction. Do they politely agree with you or are they willing to disagree and state their own opinion?

    You might also ask yourself if you have any yes person tendencies. Do you keep quiet when you know the boss is making a bad decision? Do you blindly go along with whatever you are asked to do, even if you have a better idea on how it should be done? If so, you might be a yes person.

  11. There is nothing wrong with voicing an opinion if it is done in a professional, non-threatening way. But once the direction is finalized, then it’s time to tow the line and support it wholeheartedly. It never hurts to tell your boss ahead of time that you like to say what you think, but will do what they say.