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Positive Negatives
By Kailash Awati

The stereotypical corporate IT employee has a reputation for uncooperative behaviour. The most common manifestation of this is his tendency to turn down requests from the business with a resounding ”NO!”1. Unfortunately, this trait doesn’t endear him to the folks upstairs2, and a few such refusals soon translate into a company-wide negative perception of the entire IT crew.

Now, as some say, perception is reality. So, the employee, despite his ever-mounting frustration with (what he perceives to be) ever-increasing workloads, needs to handle his customers with a little tact. He needs to learn how to say “no…” in a softer, exclamation-free, corporately-acceptable manner.

How so? Well, by using positive negatives – i.e. by putting a positive spin on the refusal. There are two ways to do this. By presenting:

  • Alternatives: This essentially amounts to saying, “No, but how about instead,” or
  • Compromises: This is a qualified “yes”. For example, “Yes, but not before next week.”

In either case, our unnamed protagonist would want to ensure that he can actually deliver on the alternative or compromise.

Obviously, the technique of positive negatives works in any area (consultants use it all the time), and the naysaying, nameless IT hack is merely a straw man to illustrate my point. So – and particularly if you’re a present or erstwhile colleague of mine – be assured that he’s a figment of my imagination.


1Some members of this mob are known to issue relatively verbose refusals such as, “No, that’s impossible because ”.

2We are talking stereotypes so the person’s a male, he’s overworked, and the IT department is in the basement – safely quarantined from the rest of the business.

Original article can be found at here.

Kailash Awati currently manages IT development at a multinational in Australia. Over the last several years, he has managed IT projects at companies ranging from startups to established firms. He has also worked as a business and technology consultant for companies in Europe and the US.

On the technical side, he is a seasoned database architect and administrator with wide experience in designing, implementing and administering databases for transactional and analytical applications.

Earlier, in what seems to him like another life, he did research in fluid dynamics and other areas of physics.

For what it’s worth, he holds doctoral degrees in physics and chemical engineering together with assorted certifications in project management and database administration. An admittedly strange mix, which he sometimes finds hard to explain.

He blogs at eight to late, where he writes about project management and other (at times distantly) related topics. Oh, and he also maintains a web presence at where he publishes longer articles on his professional interests and the occasional cryptic crossword.

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