by Erica Meza
Palo Alto College
San Antonio, TX
The 2008 film “Yes Man” starring Jim Carrey tells the story of Carl Allen, a loan officer who is stuck in a rut of negativity. He says “no” to everything, to the point that it affects his work performance and friendships. One day, he runs into an old colleague whose life has completely changed by a motivational “Yes!” seminar, which he convinces Allen to attend.
At the seminar, Allen commits to saying, “Yes!” to whatever life throws his way. The result is comical and over-the-top, in true Jim Carrey fashion, but Carl Allen experiences a new way of life by changing his mindset and seizing opportunities.
Prior to working in higher education, I worked in ad agencies servicing global clients. The stakes of keeping your clients happy are high — everyone’s jobs literally depend on their business. Early in my career, my boss taught me his mantra: “Always come from a position of ‘yes.’”
I wasn’t sad to leave that high stakes environment behind, but I brought everything I learned with me to Palo Alto College. Some things are different, but a lot is the same. One such constant is that everyone, regardless of their educational background or work experience, thinks they have the best marketing ideas.
(Of course, that’s a sweeping generalization. I should add that at Palo Alto College, our team is fortunate to have a solid group of colleagues at all levels who truly trust our expertise and give us a seat at the table.)
My point is this: Clients, no matter where you work, can come up with all sorts of ideas. It’s easy to simply dismiss their ideas with a laugh or an eye roll.
Perhaps a better approach is to get to the root of what they’re asking. Make a habit of positioning your responses with a “yes” mentality. Responses like, “I hadn’t considered that idea. What are you trying to accomplish with this project?” can help you understand their objectives, and it opens the door for you to get creative, solve problems and innovate.
In the agency world, having a “no” mentality is high risk. If you don’t give clients what they want, they will eventually leave your company. But I’d argue that it’s high risk in higher education, too. “This is the way we do things,” can mean that you don’t connect to your students, faculty, staff and community in the way that they deserve.
“Yes” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have boundaries. The movie “Yes Man” will show you that no boundaries can put you in some precarious situations. But changing your perspective to approach problems from a position of “yes,” can allow you to be more collaborative with colleagues and deliver results that can make all the difference.
Erica Meza is the coordinator of communication at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas.