How Replacing No With “I Wonder” or “Let’s Imagine” Will Revolutionize Your Professional Relationships

We’re often quick to say “No,” but what if there was a different way to grow your situational perspectives while ensuring every voice at the table is seen, heard, and felt? When you open yourself up to others, you create opportunities for connection and understanding. When you invite others into your world of wonder, you permit them to do the same. 

Researchers that spanned across the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Columbia University, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse compiled a medical journal for the American Psychological Association, which revealed results showing that the word “No” cultivated a slower response time and evoked a negative signal in the right lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). 

This may or may not surprise you, but most humans look past words and tune into intent. Additionally, many other linguistic occurrences govern how our brain processes the words we hear, which makes clear language vital. You will lose people very quickly by saying “No” or disagreeing without talking about the world of possibilities.

By shifting our language, we can revolutionize how we interact with others and unlock new opportunities for collaboration and growth.

In this article, we’ll explore how this simple yet powerful strategy can transform your professional (and personal) relationships from ordinary to extraordinary. So buckle up, get ready to learn something new, and let’s dive in!

Transforming Your Language is Living Inclusivity

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) isn’t just a recruiting initiative. It should also apply to how we deal with new ideas, how we govern meetings and even the more minor day-to-day interactions we have with team members. This is where we make or break DEIB, even if we reach larger diversity goals.  

Here’s how it works: instead of shutting down an idea outright, take the time to explore and consider all of the possibilities. This approach allows everyone to be open-minded and creative in problem-solving, which ultimately leads to better relationships with those we work with.

Now there will likely be a time when you may need to lead your team or an individual to a different conclusion. What I’ve learned as a consultant is even if I blatantly disagree with something, by leading people to a different mindset through “I wonder,” “let’s imagine,” stories or questions, I learn something new that either supports my position or causes me to shift. 

Overcoming Resistance

Harvard Professors John P. Kotter and Leonard A. Schlesinger defined four common causes people’s resistance to change originates from:

  1. Self-interest
  2. Misunderstanding and lack of trust
  3. Different evaluations
  4. Low tolerance for change

Let’s imagine plopping a big fat “No” on top of personal self-interests, people that may not completely trust you, difference of opinion, and fear of change that’s possibly associated with change trauma. You’ve now successfully managed to shut down whomever you’re speaking with. 

If you find yourself in a lot of disagreements with your colleagues, it may be time to start rephrasing your responses. Instead of saying “No” all the time, try using phrases like “I wonder” or “let’s imagine.” This small change can make a big difference in how others perceive you and will improve your professional relationships.

When we say “No,” it sounds definitive and often comes across as unfavorable. On the other hand, “I wonder” implies that you’re open to considering other options and shows that you’re willing to work together towards a solution. “Let’s imagine” is another excellent alternative that shows you’re flexible and ready to explore different possibilities.

The Goal is to Help Others Around You to be Open

Masterclass put out an excellent series that features former Secretaries of State, the late Madeleine Albright, and Condoleezza Rice. Out of the many awe-inspiring stories shared was one in particular around leadership by Condoleezza Rice. She shared that although sometimes having a quick draw when it comes to being challenged publicly can produce a quick individual win, it can also erode psychological safety because others may now be afraid of speaking up and showing vulnerability. 

Developing a personal objective and protocol for your usage of the word “No” can help you learn when and how to wield it, so that you can use it in a way that doesn’t suck the air out of innovation and new ideas. 

The Benefits of Wonder:

  • When you open yourself up to wonder, you become more receptive to new ideas and possibilities. 
  • When you allow yourself to imagine different outcomes and scenarios, you are better able to see the potential in others and in situations. 
  • When you approach life with a sense of wonder, you open yourself up to new experiences and ways of being.

Try out “I wonder” and “let’s imagine” next time you’re in a meeting or discussion with your colleagues. You may be surprised at how much more receptive they are to your ideas (and how much more you learn) when you use language that fosters openness and collaboration.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: