It’s common wisdom that the question most likely to be asked in an interview is, “Tell me about yourself.”

But that’s not true.

The most common interview question happens before the interview even starts: “Did you find our office okay?” or “How was your commute?”

Be careful how you reply. Your answer will likely determine whether you’re hired. Most employers say they make up their mind about candidates based on the quality of their small talk, and one-third claim they know whether to hire someone within the first 90 seconds.

This is why, when I coach people about their careers, my most common advice is, “Just say yes.” Even if you were in a five-car pileup or saw a fight on the subway, your answer should be positive. “It was great. Your directions were helpful.”

More than Interviews

This isn’t just true for interviews. As colleagues, we should be known as people who say yes. “Do you have five minutes to talk through this problem with me?” Yes. “Could you help me with this project?” Yes. “Can I get your advice about something?” Yes.

Wouldn’t it be great if we, as Christians, were known by our colleagues as the most helpful people in our workplaces? After all, helping others is one way to love our neighbors. It should be a joy to say yes to those who need something we can give them.

For me, though, uttering yes is too often a burden, since one of my idols is efficiency. I want to be productive and finish as much work as possible, and other people are obstacles to that. Their problems are messy, and I fear getting roped into something that will end up taking more time than I anticipated.

I also too often assume my work is more urgent or important than theirs. Can’t they figure this out on their own? Do they not realize I have my own work to do, too?

Yes in Christ

On one of his missionary trips, Paul planned to visit Corinth twice—on his way to and from Macedonia. This was his plan, and the Corinthians heard about it. But then something happened, Paul changed his mind, and rumors started circulating that Paul’s heart was divided. He loved them and wanted to see them, but maybe not as much as he loved his own convenience. 

Writing to them, though, Paul doesn’t hold back:

Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. (2 Cor. 1:17–20)

John Piper paraphrases what Paul is saying:

Our planning and preaching are not fickle; they are not double minded; they are unified; they are YES to you. We live for your good. We are for you and not against you. Our life and ministry is a resounding YES, YES, YES! Yes to your joy! Yes to your holiness! Yes to your faith and hope and love and peace and power! . . . My heart is not divided toward you because God’s heart is not divided toward you.

Spiritually, this means all of God’s promises for our good come to focus in his Son. He confirms them, secures them, and purchases them for all who belong to him (Gal. 3:14, 22; Eph. 3:6; Heb. 9:15; Rom. 15:8). Jesus is God’s yes to all who believe. He is for us, not against us (Rom. 8:31).

We should say yes to our colleagues because we want them to know we are for them, too. For their joy. For their holiness. For their faith and hope and love and peace and power. Even if they don’t know yet know Christ, we are for them because Christ was for us while we were still lost (Rom. 5:8). In a world where everyone is looking out for themselves, we want them to know that we want to serve them. And that starts with simply saying yes to helping them, sharing our possessions with them, or going the extra mile for them (Matt. 5:40–41).

When No Is Necessary

Sometimes, however, we have to say no. In fact, even when Paul told the Corinthians he was for them, he still said no to changing his new travel plans.

But there’s a secret to saying no without leaving a sting. My sister-in-law discovered it when she, as a foster parent to six boys and an adoptive mom to my nephew, was reading a book on how to raise children from hard places. Such kids, the book says, always hear no in their families of origin. “No, there is no one to pick you up.” “No, you can’t have that.”

The book recommends that, when saying no, you can still say yes. Confused? I was, too. But then I started to try it.

The other day, someone from my church asked me to do something for an upcoming event. It would’ve required me to leave my office for more than two hours, which I couldn’t do. But instead of simply saying no, I said, “I really want to say yes since I always want to help you out and this would be such fun, but I won’t be able to get away from the office for that long this week.”

I really want to say yes, but I’m afraid I have to say no.

That was the book’s advice. And it worked. She replied, “Absolutely! Understood!”

To me, saying yes seemed inauthentic at first. But I found this was true only because my default over the years shifted at some point from yes to no, and I had to retrain myself—which I’m still doing. The more I remember that all of God’s promises are yes in Christ and that God is for me, the more willing and able I am to say yes to my colleagues. It’s not too hard, and it’s very powerful.

Personal note: I want to dedicate this post to one of my colleagues at The King’s College, Dr. Kimberly Thornbury, who always says yes. Her door is always open and, even when she has many things on her plate, she is willing to help—even when my work has nothing to do with hers.