Why Wouldn’t You Go?


Why wouldn’t you go? That simple question from my friend, Jerry’s wife, Nancy, was what it took to cause Jerry to re-think his initial negative reaction to my invitation to come down to DC from NY and join me at the Bruce Springsteen concert. To be clear, Jerry is one of the most positive, upbeat, make it happen, people I know, so I’m guessing it didn’t take that much of a shift in mindset. Nevertheless, his initial reaction to my invite was a quick “thanks, but I won’t be able to make it.”

For context, Jerry and I once spontaneously bought tickets to see Springsteen in Hartford. And, we also fairly spontaneously decided that we had to see Target Field in Minnesota when it opened so we grabbed our sons and flew to Minnesota for a baseball game just because. So, this isn’t a guy who usually says “no.” Yet, this time he initially did.

So, what happened after Nancy asked Jerry why he wouldn’t go? That simple question caused Jerry to re-examine his thought process. His initial concern related to the fact that he was going to be driving from NY to Boston over the weekend before the concert, which was on a Monday night. Turning around and driving to DC the next morning and then home again on Tuesday seemed daunting. Upon reflection, there was an easy solution known as the train. Once that major issue was resolved the other potential roadblocks, all of which were minor by comparison, melted away.

How often do you jump to “no?” Whether work-related or in our personal lives, we often focus on the difficulty of doing something rather than the solutions that can help us make that something happen. In my experience, it’s the exception and not the rule, for someone to jump to “yes.” Getting to the psychology of this issue is well beyond my pay grade, so let’s focus on a few simple “tricks” to use when you find yourself confronted with a “jump to no” situation.

Suppose your boss asks you if you’d like to take on a reach assignment with a tight deadline. She makes it clear that this is an ask, not a requirement, and you won’t be penalized if you say no, and she has a good track record in that regard. So, you are about to decline the assignment. Before you decline, how about digging into your thought process? Why is your mindset negative on this project? Following is a constructive way to approach this all too common situation:

  • What are the separate elements that come into play?
    • Too much other work;
    • Spouse is on a business trip and you have primary childcare responsibilities; and
    • You aren’t particularly fond of one of the co-workers assigned to the project.
  • Are these issues resolvable in a way that makes sense and doesn’t require you to move heaven and earth?
  • How have you handled situations like this in the past? Is there anything to learn from those situations?
  • How will you feel going forward if you don’t attempt to make this work vs. how will you feel if you resolve the issues and take on the assignment? Jerry mentioned that it’s even broader than this. He indicated that if he’d stuck with “no” he’d have struggled with it right up until it was too late—you know, “after the train left the station” kind of late—and then he’d have thought “why didn’t I go?” But, it would’ve been too late by then.

This same construct works in a situation where you are the one asking the question or posing the offer. In that circumstance you can offer assistance to the one who is deciding by sharing this set of questions.

Getting back to what you really want to know. . . Bruce and the E Street band brought their A game to DC. As my friend, Jan, who joined us at the concert said, “the best word to describe the show is ‘joyous.’” Why wouldn’t you go?