5 ways to find out if a YES is really a NO?

In many parts of the world, an automatic positive answer to your boss or colleague is simply a public “face saving yes”, not a factually positive answer or by any means a statement of agreement.This type of yes is basically an affirmation of acceptance of the boss in an inherently unequal relationship.

This phenomenon aggravates and horrifies many Western managers with their Asian or Mid East employees, who wish that their employees were “more transparent”.

Instead of becoming angry, critical and judgmental, here are three things you can do to try to see if the “yes” is real.

Let us imagine that boss Ed want to know if the guest lecturer he plans to invite to next months offiste is appropriate. Ngai, an opinion leader from Thailand. gives a public yes, when asked. If Ed wants to go a layer deeeper:-

  • Ed can ask Ngai’s associate, Daw, “if Ngai likes lectures like this, or perhaps she prefers other topics”. Daw can talk to Ed about Ngai’s preference with less face being involved.
  • Ed can have lunch with Ngai and tell her “Ngai, I need your help. Can you think about the best lecture we can provide in next month’s session”. (By phrasing this question as futuristic, face issues do not surface, since the event has not happened yet.)
  • Ed can ask Ngai, privately: If Mr X cannot lecture, who would you suggest we invite? Ngai may say-Mr Y.  Then, a day or two later, Ed can ask: I am thinking of inviting Y instead of X. Then Ed should wait and see what Ngai says.
  • Ed says to Ngai in private, “Ngai, correct me if I am wrong, I believe my choice of lecturer can be improved. Am I wrong”?
  • Ed says to Ngai in private, “Ngai there are rumours that the lecturer is not suitable. Is this the case”?

Does this take time? You bet! If you are in a hurry, accept the face and pay the price.

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2 thoughts on “5 ways to find out if a YES is really a NO?

  1. I have never seen a public no for someone from SEA who was not educated outside the area.
    Even then, of my 20 years of work in Asia, maybe I have seen it 2-3 times.

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