One day, I was asked to give an inspiring speech to a hundred young professionals with high potential from a big company. I wasn’t a speaker, but they’d contacted me because I had impressed a few managers during a round table.
In my speech, I shared the secrets that had allowed me to reach an executive position. Recipes that I am proposing to share with you through a series of articles:
First piece of advice: “Don’t take No for an answer”.
(I’ll say it now, this only applies to the professional sphere. In the personal environment, No always means “NO!”)
I’m going to tell you a little anecdote that I’d mentioned in my first article, but this time to understand it from the perspective of the “no”.
Enrolled in engineering school, I go to the career fair. Having met a field engineer shortly before, I am absolutely convinced that it’s what I want to do – this, and nothing else! So I head towards the company stand and tell the recruiter that I’m interested in the position. He looks at me from head to toe and answers “No”. It could’ve ended there and I wouldn’t be here today. But it made me angry. What do you mean “No”? Why “No”? You don’t know anything about me or my CV. I won’t take this no. I’m asking for an explanation and I won’t leave until I get one. Plus, my CV as a future graduate is rather good. I’m president of the student union and I led the biggest event of the school, organized a charity project in Mali… so there’s no logical reason for this no, except maybe… But even 30 years ago, you couldn’t tell a woman that she couldn’t apply for a job on the only basis that she was a woman. So I stay there… one hour, two hours… until I wear him out. He ends up giving me a questionnaire, probably to get rid of me. But a few months later, here I was, in Warri – Nigeria, starting as a field engineer on an oil rig, only woman amongst 80 men.
But why did he say No? That’s the real question. Truth is, I’m putting him in a situation he’s never faced before. He has never recruited a woman for this job and never imagined that a woman could go have a little walk on a rig. He’s not prepared at all for such a request. By addressing him such a direct request, I’m taking him out of his comfort zone. Most people fear the unknown and panic. They say No, without really knowing why. It’s an automatic defense mechanism, simply because it’s never been done before and the obstacles seem impossible to jump (that being said, although it’s not the subject of this article, he wasn’t completely wrong…it was so complicated that I later wrote a book about it, La Pétroleuse).
Except that following your boss’ instructions without ever saying No rarely allows you to accomplish things that are out of the ordinary and to evolve in your career.
So every No needs to be analyzed before being accepted.
If the No comes after an intense time of reflection and the study of all the ins and outs of the project with your superior, then it might be valid. Although, it could also mean that it has been argued poorly, and that the data collection work and the facts to support the theory are not comprehensive enough. So this is the time to ask yourself if there’s a possibility of reopening the debate later, once you’ve built a stronger case. However, you can’t let it become obsessive, because you can sometimes get a second chance, but rarely a third.
If the No comes immediately, peremptory, we fight back. The war is not over yet.
Maybe a similar experience has been tempted, unsuccessfully. It’s important to understand what didn’t work and take it into account so that you can write your new proposal in a way that shows that a positive result is possible if we change certain parameters. It’s also plausible that new technologies have made the impossible possible. However, be sure not to make the assumption that maybe you were wrong and that you underestimated some data. That’s also what experience is for!
But if the No is just a boss who has decided not to move, or who was in a bad mood that day, then it’s more complicated. Having a fight with your boss is rarely a good idea. In this case, try to negotiate the right to test your idea, either through a pilot study or on a little, risk-free site. Basically, the idea is to create tangible evidence that our project is feasible on the field, rather than through slides.
And if all of this doesn’t work, especially if it has happened more than once, then maybe your mind is too innovative for this society and you need to decide if you want to continue doing what you’re told without questioning it, or if it’d be preferable to find a greener patch of grass that would fit your personality better.
In each new position that I had, I questioned the established order, I transformed the job. It wasn’t easy and I often faced a lot of uncertainty and Nos from my managers, but I found a way to bounce back and bring them onboard.
If you asked me today what allowed me to climb the ladder, this refusal of the established order would definitely be one of the main reasons.