What’s your default answer?

Pushbuttons - the green one says Yes, the red one says NoDoes your imagination present you with all the reasons why something will go wrong?

That’s a great skill, and I mean that sincerely. Being able to see potential pitfalls and problems is part of risk management, and leaders need to be good at managing risk if they want to succeed.

But this ability to see all the ways something won’t work can cause you to say “No!” to proposals or suggestions that, with a few tweaks and a little focus, might actually be good ideas.

You see all the potential pitfalls in any scenario, so it’s way too easy to jump to why the new idea someone suggests just won’t work. But then you squelch creativity and innovation. And if you say “No!” often enough, people won’t bother bringing you ideas – including ideas that might solve current problems.

So if your default response tends to be “No!”, and you think you might be missing out on some good problem-solving, innovation-creating ideas (hint: you probably are), try these steps next time a team member or colleague suggests something new.

Pause. Breathe.

You’ve got time. No one says you need to answer one way or the other within ten seconds of hearing an idea.

Pause. Breathe.

Ask for details

If you’re a detail-oriented person and someone’s just tossed out a quick high-level idea, it’s super tempting to dismiss that idea.

If you’re not a detail-oriented person, it’s still important to get more information before making a decision.

Depending on the scope of the idea, you might ask for a written proposal, which can be a simple outline in email or a more in-depth report. Or you could ask them to expand on their ideas in a face-to-face meeting.

Either way, this has the added advantage of giving you time to think about what might go right, as well as all those things that could go wrong.

Using “and”…

Given your skill at problem-detection, you’ll probably never hear an idea that sounds 100% great right from the start.

So instead of saying, “Thanks for the idea, but it won’t work because…” try, “Thanks for the idea, and what about tweaking it like this…”

Turn that skill around

There’s nothing wrong – and a lot right – with understanding potential problems.

And you can bring that foresight to bear on more than just problems.

Try imagining all the things that could go right. What are the potential benefits? Where’s the upside on this idea? What gains in effectiveness, productivity, innovation, and/or profitability might arise?

Not every idea …

Not every idea should be pursued.

Not every idea should be thrown out.

Discerning the difference between an idea that’s irrelevant, impractical, or too risky at this time, and an idea that, with a little planning, tweaking, and revision could be a great boost – that’s a valuable leadership skill well worth developing.