There are two words we’re used to say, but probably not realizing the power behind it. If those two words if used incorrectly we’ll not only give away decision-making power, also damage your leadership image. But if you play it right, it can gain you some respect.

What are these two words?

They are: I agree.

I agree is a consent of decision-making. The moment you say I agree to someone’s input you’re making them the decision-maker, and yourself – the follower. As a project manager , we naturally are the leader of our project team. The leader needs to state the decisions. by giving that power away, you can make yourself look like the type of Project Manager who cannot make decisions or afraid to make decisions.

It is like the Ancient Chinese Qing Dynasty in the picture. The king would have every morning meet up with his ” leadership team”. The king listened to issue update, gathered advise. He was never the one say” I agree”. He was the one stated the decision in the end and gave the action item.

Sometimes, we see in project meetings that after a roundtable input, Project Manager(PM) would say “I agree with all of our input. Here’s my thought…” I think what it means is that “I appreciate all of your input”. “I agree” are used in those situations because we’re afraid to upset people who provide input. The worst is during a discussion, project manager says “I agree with you, but…”. The but contradicts with I agree. You do not agree at the first place. “I agree” are used in this case as a phrase to jump into the discussion and change focus of the topic. There are better ways to say that and express the same meaning.

What are the better phrases to use and how to use “I agree” correctly? We see this happening in two places: project meeting and in front of senior management.

1. Project meetings: at the beginning of a project meeting, PM opens project meeting by stating the topic. When it is time to open the roundtable discussion, PM can say “what do you guys think?”. This is an invitation for round table input. As you start to collect input, PM can nod your head showing that you received input. If you want to give some appreciation, you can saygreat idea”. If you want to show more, you can say “I really like your idea!”. After collecting all the input , PM can say ” Thank you for all of your input and here’s my proposal for our next step…”. That makes the PM the good decision maker by collecting input, listening to the team and coming up with the proposal. You’re simply inviting everyone to say “I agree”. A leader is the one who’s set the agenda and state the decision. Good leaders are the ones who know how to beautifully wrap the input they received and state the decisions in their own words.

2. In front of the senior management: One scenario is that project has trouble. PM schedules a meeting with the senior management. In the meeting, PM says we’re in trouble! Here’s the problem. What do we do? Under 10 mins, PM puts senior management on the spot for decision making. The management probably asked a few questions about the project and come up with their suggestion. Often, the PM will say: ” I agree”. It looks like you’re the type of PM who cannot make a decision or do not want to take a responsibility for the decision. It’s really not a smart way to impress your senior management . Keep in mind, your senior management are dealing with all aspects of issues in the operation. They’re very busy. If anybody who knows the best about the project and be able to make the right decision for the project, that’s you the PM. Therefore, instead of asking the management what to do, what you need to do is to present the issue like a business case. Go to the meeting, state the problem, state the potential impact of the problem, present your proposed solution, and discuss the pros and cons of the proposal. All you are asking from the management is a consent to your proposal after you provided them all the information they need. You give them the option to say “I agree”. You are still the decision-maker for the project and you gain respect from your senior management. This is much smarter way to get good impression and demonstrate strong leadership skills rather than the previous scenario.

Decision making is power. Handle it correctly. also, don’ give it away so easily.