What to Do When Someone Says “It’s Not Possible”
I live in one of the “luxury” apartment buildings in Manhattan. And for 90%+ of the people who live in this building, they get to enjoy the full luxury experience. For me, however, it’s a little different.
I live on the side of the building that touches a major retailer’s loading dock and storage facility. Each day and night I’m accosted by noises that transfer, making it sound like pallets are being dragged and dropped literally above my head. The physics of sound transfer are astonishing. This happens all hours of the day and night, making a full-night’s rest a wishful thought.
For four months I’ve put in complaints, made suggestions for change, offered potential solutions, and all have fallen on deaf ears. After realizing that the building management has no capacity to implement change, I went directly to the property manager. I wrote to him, offering suggestions, including a rent reduction or credit until I could be moved into the same-size unit in a different building location.
After not receiving a response for eight days, I re-sent a message asking him to give me the courtesy of a response. His first line: “Hi Jill–a rent reduction is not possible.”
Not possible? That combination of words is not readily in my vocabulary.
The grammatically-literal me wanted to write back, “I urge you to consult a dictionary for the meaning of the word ‘possible’.” Or, “What you mean to say is that it is possible, but that you’re not willing to consider it.” But I held my tongue (or fingers in this case).
Telling someone that something is “not possible” is a dangerous action.
Unfortunately, business managers do it all too often.
When you tell someone that something is “not possible” you will typically get one of two reactions:
- The person will be even more determined to prove you wrong. –or–
- The person’s spirit will be broken.
Both of these positions take away from workplace productivity.
In the first, you have an employee focused on the wrong things–restoring equity, looking for a new job, or focusing so hard on what is “not possible” that other tasks fall by the wayside.
With the second, you get an employee who feels under-valued, under-appreciated, or, worse, under-utilized. By saying something is “not possible” you’re telling someone that his or her thoughts aren’t worth merit, that the innovation isn’t worth consideration, and that he or she shouldn’t bring new ideas to the table.
If you’re going to use the words “not possible” or if you catch them slipping out, here is a simple fix.
Add “unless…” to your sentence.
“It’s not possible unless you/I/we can find a way to [reduce the budget by X amount].”
This phrase shows the employee some cause and effect, and also challenges the employee to be creative about a way to reduce the budget. Many new ideas could come to the surface from this simple addition.
Don’t discourage innovation by using limiting language. Instead, let your employees help you rethink what is possible.
For those curious on where my story goes, I did respond back, inviting him, or whoever makes the decisions on what is “possible”, to stay in my unit (or the now-vacant-because-of-the-noise unit next to me). We will see what happens. To be continued…This entry was posted in Communication, Employee Development, Feedback, Innovation, Leadership, Management, Productivity. Bookmark the permalink.