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Winning At Working: Too Many Maybes
by Nan Russell

Workplace decision-making often reminds me of a "Peanuts" comic strip I saw where Lucy and Charlie Brown were discussing their New Year's resolutions. "I'm going to be a changed person next year," Charlie tells Lucy. "That's a laugh," Lucy replies. "You'll be wishy-washy." "Well," Charlie says defensively, "One day I'll be wishy and the next washy."

I once worked for a boss who was a master of Charlie Brown decision making. One day she'd give a "definite maybe;" the next an "indefinite perhaps." But most of the time, it was "I'll think about it and get back to you." Of course, she never did and no amount of follow-up produced an answer. I came to realize there was a black hole in her desk where decision requests were put. Usually time ran out on the issue, the opportunity passed or no-decision was rendered. Her staff felt thwarted and frustrated.

Later I discovered it was just as frustrating to work with as to work for these wishy-washy maybe-people. Intertwined projects, assistance or information needed from other departments, and common company goals, mean dependence on others to accomplish our work responsibilities. Having to deal with indecisive maybe-people in a critical role or on a team means stalled progress.

Maybe they're afraid to make a decision; maybe they're lazy; maybe they're overwhelmed; maybe they're incompetent; maybe they can't decide. Whatever the reason, results are reduced.

Like the Scottish proverb says, "Maybe's a big book." So if you want to be winning at working, it's a book you don't want to read or to use. At least not for long. It's one thing to use think-time to make the best decision you can and another to let a decision happen by default because you never got around to making your own.

In twenty years in management I learned it's better to hear a quick "no" and move on to other options, projects, or opportunities than wander in the land-of-maybe where little can be accomplished. In many workplaces "maybe" has become the diplomatic, politically correct way to say "no." So, the sooner you decide if that applies to your situation, the sooner you can move to plan B and get results.

However, the problem with too many maybes is not limited to those we need decisions from. We're all decision makers no matter our role. There are teammates, clients, customers, family or friends you owe information to, responses to, decisions to. The difference in how you decide will leave its mark. Gordon Graham puts it this way, "Decision is a sharp knife that cuts clean and straight; indecision, a dull one that hacks and tears and leaves ragged edges behind it." Want to be winning at working? Cut clean. Be decisive.

(c) 2005 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Nan Russell may be contacted at

Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at


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