Today is a Good Day to Decline

by Sandy Nelson on December 17, 2012

Gabriella Grace Nelson, our five year old, loves to win. She equally loves dessert.

Recently, “G” invests a lot of creativity in designing ways to turn most events into contests that involve opportunities for winning—preferably with rules that strongly favor outcomes that lead to her being the victor. For instance, “Whoever finishes eating first gets dessert.”

Last night, distracted at the dinner table, it became obvious that she was on a path to finish dinner last. She proclaimed that the rules that determine the dinner winner were changing—effective immediately. “Tonight, whoever finishes dinner last wins!”

Because I love to tease her, I replied, “OK, then. Whoever finishes first loses, but as a consolation prize, gets dessert. No one else does.”

My response was, as you might imagine, unwelcome.

After visibly contemplating options, Gabriella Grace initiated a negotiation. Her obvious intent was to shift the rules, again, so that she would both win and get dessert.

After a period of good natured back and forth on the topic, Gabriella made a definitive declaration, “OK, I’m done with this conversation! Whoever finishes last wins and gets dessert!”

Not surprisingly, her mother and I had a hard time containing our laughter. How many times, over the years, have we advised our clients to decline conversations inconsistent with what matters?

There we were, being told by a five year old that she was no longer open to further conversation regarding a topic that was of prime importance on her list of highest priorities.

How easy it is to forget this basic high performance principle—the conversations you decline are as critical, if not more so, to success as those you choose to engage in. So much bandwidth and energy are dispersed, so many distractions created and amplified by choosing to be open to conversations that are misaligned with what matters.

Everyone I know today is busy. Most people I interact with have plates that are overflowing. There is too little time and bandwidth available to deal with pressing needs, much less strategic priorities.

Nevertheless, significant portions of many days are devoted to conversations that have little to do with what matters. As a result, our ability to fulfill promises made and owned is compromised.

Virtually all action in organizations and life, for that matter, are driven by conversation. The range and number of possible conversations that come our way on a day-by-day basis far exceed our biological capacity to engage. The choices we make will largely determine the level of success we have in achieving our goals and fulfilling our promises.

Today is a good day to pay attention to which conversations to accept and to decline. Choose wisely.


Sandy Nelson

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