When spouses stop giving each other helpful feedback, they
lose out on the help of a lifelong confidant and coach. They miss
out on hundreds of opportunities to help each other communicate
YEAH, BUT 1 97
FAilURE TO LIVE UP TO AGREEMENTS
MY TEAMMATES ARE hypocrites. We get together and
talk about all the ways we could improve, but then
people don’t do what they agreed to. ”
The Danger Point
The worst teams walk away from problems like these. In good
teams, the boss eventually deals with problem behavior. In the
best teams, every team member is part of the system of account
ability. If team members see others violate a team agreement,
they speak up immediately and directly. It’s dangerous to wait for
or expect the boss to do what good teammates should do them
If your teammate isn’t doing what you think he or she should, it’s
up to you to speak up.
We realized this after watching a group of executives that
agreed they’d hold off on all discretionary spending to help free
up cash for a short-term crunch. This strategy sounded good in
the warm glow of an off-site meeting, but the very next day a
team member rushed back and prepaid a vendor for six months
of consulting work-work that appeared to be “discretionary.”
A team member who saw the executive prepare for and then
make the prepayment didn’t realize this was the crucial conver
sation that would determine whether the team would pull
together or fall apart on this issue. Instead, he decided it was up
to the boss to hold this person accountable. He said nothing. By
the time the boss found out about the transaction and addressed
the i ssue. the policy had already been violated and the money
1 98 CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS
spent. Motivation to support the new plan dissipated, and the
team ran short of cash.
When teams try to rally around aggressive change or bold new
initiatives, they need to be prepared to address the problem
when a team member doesn’t live up to the agreement. Success
does not depend on perfect compliance with new expectations,
but on teammates who hold crucial conversations with one
another when others appear to be reverting to old patterns.
DEFERENCE TO AUTHORITY
PEOPLE WHO WORK FOR ME FILTER WHAT they say by
guessing what they think I’m willing to hear. They take “YEAH, BUT . . .
little initiative in solving important problems because
they’re afraid 1’1/ disagree with them. ”
The Danger Point
When leaders face deference-or what feels like kissing up
they typically make one of two mistakes. Either they misdiagnose
the cause (fear), or they try to banish deference with a brash
Misdiagnose. Often, leaders are causing the fear but denying
it. “Who me? I don’t do a thing to make people feel uncomfort
able.” They haven’t Learned to Look. They’re unaware of their
Style Under Stress. Despite this disclaimer, the way they carry
themselves, their habit of speaking in absolutes, their subtle use
of authority-something out there-is creating fear and eventual
Then there’s the other misdiagnosis: leaders who face “head
bobbing kiss-ups” often think they’re doing something wrong
when, in fact, they’re living with ghosts of previous leaders. They
do their best to be open and supportive and to involve people,
YEAH, BUT 1 99
but despite their genuine efforts, people still keep their distance.
Often, people treat their leaders like celebrities or dictators,
regardless of the fact that they’ve done nothing to deserve it.
Before you do anything, you need to find out if you’re the
cause, if you’re living with ghosts of bosses past, or both.
Command it away. Many leaders seek the simple path. They
tell people to stop deferring.
“It seems to me that you’re agreeing with me because I’m
the boss and not because what I’m saying makes sense.”
“I’d prefer that you stop deferring to me and simply listen
to the idea.”
“Okay. whatever you say, Boss ! ”
With ingrained deference you face a catch-22. If you don’t say
something, it’ll probably continue. If you do say something, you
may be inadvertently encouraging it to continue.