What We Misunderstand about Yes Buts

This post is part of a series for school leaders working on implementing large-scale, learning-focused school change. Your success depends not just on your technical knowledge about the initiative, but also how well you understand the three kinds of staff in your school (Yahoos, Yes Buts, and NFWs) and how their support needs differ.

The Yes Buts seem hesitant and skeptical of the initiatives with their questions of “but what about this and what about that?”

This post focuses on how we misunderstand Yes Buts.

The biggest thing we misunderstand about the Yes Buts on our staff is that we think they are trying to block the initiative with their “Yes, but…” questions. In truth, the Yes Buts’ objective is to get their concerns addressed.

Pay attention to what they are asking. They may be hesitant or skeptical, but their questions represent their real concerns and worries about aspects of the initiative.

When you offer a response they view as authentic and credible, Yes Buts will view it as a satisfactory response. And if you satisfactorily address their concerns, they will often say, “Oh. Ok,” and work with you.

There will often be additional yes-but questions, but you need to assume Yes Buts are legitimately anxious or troubled by the issue and will similarly move forward when they receive a credible response.

In fact, Yes Buts are used to either having their questions and concerns blown off or getting lame answers. Your providing responses that they view as legitimate, authentic, practical, and doable will gain you enormous credibility with them and their willingness to try. Having those kinds of answers to Yes But questions is a critical component to moving your initiative forward, and not paying enough attention to them or not taking the questions seriously can be a major reason an initiative doesn’t move forward.

Further, most of their questions are practical in nature, focused on how to make the initiative not just be a good idea, but something that actually works.  Be prepared to go find answers to Yes But questions from others who are having success implementing the same kind of initiative.

The other thing we misunderstand about Yes Buts is their attitude. Just because we respond to their concerns does not mean that they will become enthusiastic or even happy about the work. We cannot assume that their lack of enthusiasm means that they will be difficult to work with  or block the work. Remember – they are skeptical. They are probably worried about failing or the initiative not working as promised. And they are probably tired of the Educational Flavor of the Month, requiring them to put time and energy into learning new things only to have the Flavor replaced by another. No wonder they don’t seem happy about it!

Remember, the Yes Buts are the heart and soul of the school.  They may not be the innovators nor demonstrate the enthusiasm and open curiosity of the Yahoos, but the Yes Buts are largely solid, capable, competent educators who establish the culture of the school. The Yes Buts will make or break your initiative, and should be treated accordingly.

If we have addressed their concerns, and if they feel supported, Yes Buts will work with us. They will put in the time and effort, even if they aren’t convinced yet that it will work. And we should be happy with their willingness and not get hung up on how convinced, happy, or enthusiastic they are or are not.


Next in the series: How to best support Yes Buts.

2 thoughts on “What We Misunderstand about Yes Buts

  1. Pingback: How to Best Support Yes Buts | Multiple Pathways

  2. Pingback: Working With A Diverse Staff: The Complete Series | Multiple Pathways

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