No-nonsense perspectives on startup growth

This article was published on February 25, 2021


Stop listening to your #yesbut brain if you want to grow

Listen to the people around you instead

Stop listening to your #yesbut brain if you want to grow


Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten
Story by

Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten

CEO and co-founder, TNW

Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and Boris is a serial entrepreneur who founded not only TNW, but also V3 Redirect Services (sold), HubHop Wireless Internet Provider (sold), and pr.co. Boris is very active on Twitter as @Boris and Instagram: @Boris.

Boris is the wise ol’ CEO of TNW who writes a weekly column on everything about being an entrepreneur in tech — from managing stress to embracing awkwardness. You can get his musings straight to your inbox by signing up for his newsletter!

It’s all too natural to go on the defensive when someone challenges you. You don’t even think about it, it’s so instinctive it feels like an integral part of the conversation. You’re challenged, so you defend.

But is it really? I’ve started to force myself to bite my lip when someone says something I interpret as a challenge to me. It’s far from easy — because my brain begins to shout ‘yes but!’ every time I perceive a challenge — but holding myself back has started to pay off.

Now, of course there are moments where a well-placed “yes, but” makes sense. Like, if you want to go out all night and your parents say no, you have no choice but to throw in a “yes, but” to explain how you cleaned your room, washed the dishes, and finished all your homework.

[Read: Why you need to stress out your co-workers… sometimes]

However, in most other cases, like when you’re trying to learn something — which, let’s face it, should be happening every day at work — the “yes, but” part of your brain won’t help you at all.

I noticed this particularly when I was skiing. A ski teacher will say to the skier, “try to move your weight to the front a bit, so you’re more centered on your ski.”

If you truly want to become a better skier, this is the right moment to shut up and listen. But that’s hard. Most of the time, you’ll hear an immediate “yes, but” but from the skier:

“Yes, but that’s because the snow is really powdery, so then I always lean back a bit.”

Sure, that reply is understandable, but it’s not constructive — for anyone.

It won’t help the skier get better, and “yes, but” is also frustrating for teachers and mentors. They’re not here to have a negotiation and find the middle ground between them and the student. They just want to give you the gift of their knowledge — and often you might also have paid them to do it, too.

So instead of allowing your #yesbut brain to take over, shut the fuck up and really listen to what your teacher has to say.

And before you start thinking — “I don’t ski, I don’t have teachers, this doesn’t apply to me” — I want to make it clear that’s your #yesbut brain taking over.

Your co-workers and kids are teaching you. Every book or article you read can be a learning experience. Life is one big learning experience! But the lessons won’t stick until you stop defending and start listening.

Can’t get enough of Boris? Check out his older stories here, and sign up for his newsletter here.

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