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The Biggest, Happiest Lie in Business

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The English language, beautiful and complex in its own right, is chock full of maddening rules that open the door to multiple meanings, miscommunication and ultimately, purposeful misdirection.

Today’s blog title is an intriguing one. After all, “Happiest Lie in Business” can certainly turn your head, twinge your ears and make your eyes bulge in total curiosity. Particularly because it’s guaranteed that we’ve all been privy to the happiest lie in our workday at least once, but probably multiple times. Some may even discover, once reading this post in its entirety, that the happiest lie plagues their daily lives. So, what is it exactly?

In his article posted on Inside Indiana Business Robby Slaughter reveals the two words which comprise the happiest lie in business: “No Problem.” According to Slaughter, “no problem” is code for something else:

Whenever someone says “no problem” what they mean is “there is a problem.” They mean “I don’t want to do that. I shouldn’t have to do that. But I will.” Or, they might mean “I know you think this is my job, but it’s not.” Maybe they mean you should have, or someone else should have, or it should be done automatically.

But if they thought it should be done and it was their job, they would say “yes.”

Honestly, it couldn’t be any clearer. Slaughter’s explanation of this “happiest lie” phenomenon is spot on. And what’s more, he’s right, these two words are used everyday by people in the exact manner with which he explains above. I will openly admit how quick I am to utilize this phrase despite my wrenching distaste for what I’m agreeing to do. More often than not, these words come out of my mouth moreso to please others. So, I suppose for me, “happiest lie” is for the other person. Not me.

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Obviously, saying “no problem” to a task I feel I should not be doing, is a complexity in the English language that extends past the standard dictionary definition. “No problem” by ordinary terms, means you’re okay with the statement and/or request directed toward you. Yet, it’s also an incredibly passive aggressive tactic that purposefully misdirects communication. So, what can be done to make this happy lie in business deteriorate and phase out for good? Slaughter suggests the following:

The answer to any request should begin with the word “yes” or the word “no.” It’s okay to add clarifications or caveats: “Yes, but we need to adjust the budget and the schedule” or “No, unless we put another project on hold.” It’s okay to explain your answer. But “no problem” is a little bit suspicious.

Indeed, choosing more definitive words, ones in which represent how we truly feel, should be the way in which we begin to respond. It may be uncomfortable at first to say no at work or step up to the plate and actively volunteer to spearhead a task or project, but at least we’re not settling for the raw end of the stick that sends our passive aggressiveness into a tailspin. Feeling confident in saying “yes” or “no” helps satisfy our right to be in full control of ourselves, our time and our jobs. As Slaughter points out, it’s our responsibility to answer honestly because if we don’t, we are ultimately the ones who end up suffering the consequences.

The deeper point here is not merely about these two words, or even being precise with our language. Rather, it’s about how much our communication involves bending the truth. When someone asks you if you can do something, it’s essential to answer honestly. If you don’t, you’re going to either disappoint them when you fail, or stretch yourself thin trying to meet the promise. And what’s worse is that in the long run you’re only going to set yourself up for more failure. You’ll be remembered as the person who broke their promise, or you’ll be expected to perform secret heroics in the future.

Do yourself a favor. The next time you are about to mutter the happiest lie at work bite your tongue. Take a moment to collect your thoughts and consider a thoughtful response that actively supports what you believe represents the best course of action for both you and your team. Good luck!

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Ashley Lee

Ashley Lee

Ashley has been working with the AccelaWork team since 2008. She is a communications expert with a background in corporate work, and a graduate of the University of Dayton with a degree in Public Relations. She lives in the greater Indianapolis area with her husband and four children. Ashley enjoys jewelry, fashion, and coffee.
Ashley Lee

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