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Why People Who Say No Mean Yes

George Bernard Shaw called him 'the unreasonable man'. Charles Handy borrowed the phrase and fashioned a book around him and our need for him in the twenty-first century. Handy called his book, 'The Age of Unreason'. Gary Hamel, the American strategy guru, also identifies his (or her) prominence in shaping the future of successful organisations. Hamel calls him, 'by nature, a contrarian', and believes that the 'beginning of strategy is a contrarian nature'. For the first time, we can now accurately identify this 'unreasonable man'. Thinking Styles calls him a 'Mismatcher'.

Someone with a preference for mismatching hates being told what to do. Being told what to do or what they should or must do, as opposed to being asked to do something, seems to generate an immediately negative cognitive response. These people process through disagreement; they move from 'no' to 'yes'. In many ways they seem to enjoy this process of disagreement, which they perceive as challenging and stimulating rather than confrontational or oppositional. Although there are times when the mismatchers' first 'no' really does mean 'no', it is quite likely that this is just the first stage of their cognitive processing. You can either challenge them and work through the thinking together, or return to them later when they may be nearer a more positive response. When you get to know them, you will be able to differentiate between the responses.

The 'opposite' of mismatching behaviour is matching behaviour. 'Matchers' tend to be more conventional. They like to fit in, strongly dislike conflict in any form and process information in a non-confrontational manner. This makes them likely to agree, even when their 'yes' really means 'no'! These people tend to be conventional thinkers who, although they may support change, are not themselves change agents.

Interestingly, although the mismatcher's propensity to challenge the status quo, break the rules and take risks in order to generate change and be innovative, is often highly valued at strategic level, very often it is not valued lower down in the organization. Here, where people are more often expected to 'tow the line', mismatchers tend to be viewed as being disruptive, difficult to manage or mavericks. This is a mistake as, where mismatchers are not valued they will move on and the organization will ultimately lose out as their change agents and original thinkers will be gone.

Working at both senior and operational levels has exposed me to many different leadership styles. Two of the worst leadership behaviours I have encountered are:

•  mismatchers who like to challenge others but dislike being challenged themselves
•  matchers who dislike conflict so much that they avoid confrontational situations when it would be more appropriate to challenge, promote debate or even confrontational discussion.
Both matchers and mismatchers need to learn to develop cognitive and behavioural flexibility. They need to learn not only when it is appropriate to match and when to challenge, but how to do those things effectively - particularly those behaviours which are not their natural preference. Understanding yourself is the first step towards developing flexibility and more effective strategies for managing relationships and gently influencing others. Thinking Styles can help you do this.
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