Banish your Possibility Robbers

Possibility Robbers don’t belong in your life. Get rid of them.

In the eyes of your Boss, or any coach or mentor who’s frustrated with you, Possibility Robbers are the villains who have robbed you of having a good attitude. They can muck up your other relationships too.

See them for who they are, so you can banish them once and for all, saying goodbye to them forevermore. Banish them, and your Language of We will blossom. You’ll be saying hello to much healthier work, and a much happier you. You’ll become magnetic: Others will be attracted to your positive energy like never before.

Let’s identify them, so we can truly see these Robbers for who they are, and what they are stealthily doing to you, until you have the foresight in stopping them.

There are 5 Possibility Robbers who haunt our workplaces:

1. “Yeah, but…” — the throwing up of justification and excuse
2. Should-ing — working within other’s expectations, instead of within your own
3. My way or the highway — resting on your laurels and/or refusing to collaborate with others, neglecting to make room for them
4. “Not meant for me” — self-doubt, self-limiting behavior, and the problem of low self-esteem
5. “I can’t” when you really mean, “I won’t”, and/or “I don’t want to talk about it.” — this is a ploy to delay, or outright denial, and a lack of courage

Possibility Robbers are the enemies of HO‘OHANA (doing the worthwhile work of your most passionate intentions) and ‘IMI OLA (creating your best possible future in a rewarding and visionary way).

Possibility Robbers are saboteurs. They throw obstacles in your path, and erect barriers. They put blinders on you, preventing you from achieving work to progress, particularly with the possibility potential in 1) change and reinvention 2) innovation and visionary thinking and 3) the growth of PALENA ‘OLE capacity development (MWA Key 9).

If you have been working on the LOVE or HATE exercise, identifying your Possibility Robbers is the next-stepping you can do. Possibility Robbers are sneaky: They aren’t as in-your-face as HATEs and tend to disguise themselves. They’re also harder to grapple with because you need to be more intellectually honest about them — HATEs will usually come from tasks you can eliminate, whereas Possibility Robbers often come from your own habits (for example, self-doubt), or you agreeing with the naysayers because pretending you agree is much easier than challenging them, and changing as you need to. The problem with pretending, is that your own brain won’t know the difference: It helps you forget about the issue and move on, when you probably need to deal with it in some way, whether symptom of something else, or root cause of a recurring problem.

The LOVE or HATE exercise is here: What should I do with my life? Find out!

A Personal Story ~

I’ve stared these Robbers in the eye too; none of us are immune to their charms. I clearly, painfully, remember the day I read the essay comments I’d received in a 360° Review done by my peers, when I served on the Executive Committee of a hotel. Right there, in black and white, and for all those peers to read, and hammer home with me, was written, “Rosa’s success works against her: Granted, her team is exceptional, but she says ‘yeah, but’ way too often to the rest of us, assuming she knows all they need to know: It’s hard to get our ideas into her team circle.” Ouch. It was a sucker punch to the gut that I felt both physically and emotionally.

It hurt, but it was also the best thing anyone could have done for me, because I certainly didn’t want to stay on that track! I’ll be honest, I got defensive and denied it, at first. Then I started to take better notice of my own behavior, listening to words as I spoke them. I couldn’t deny it once I heard my Possibility Robbers myself, and could newly see reactions in the faces of the people I worked with. I apologized for sins both past and present (a lot.) Now that I knew what to watch for, I sensed clues earlier, so I could catch myself, and correct course. It wasn’t an overnight improvement: I got braver about asking others on that Committee to call me on it whenever another instance of yeah-butting or laurel-resting haughtiness slipped through. The smartest thing I did was swallow my pride and ask them for more help: What can I do that will serve you better too?

Identify the Villains, and Root out their hold on you.

Identifying these Possibility Robbers is crucial as your first step, for saboteurs are masters in disguise. They can be devious and seductive. They can be hidden in different language, so take a look at that list again, and start listening for them, in both your language, and in what others are saying because they’ve taken your lead or followed your example. In my own story, I discovered that managers who reported to me were doing the same thing in their interdepartmental interactions, because they felt the more exclusive focus was what I expected of our team as a whole. Yikes!

Hunt down your Possibility Robbers by being as open-minded as you can, resisting the slightest impulses of disbelief or denial. How might the people in your culture be your mirror as a manager?

Once you identify them, investigate cause and effect: Why is the Possibility Robber in play — what’s the root cause of its effect? What’s your self-motivation, or honest vulnerability in hiding behind that Robber? When you answer those questions, you may find that correcting course is easier than you think. Sometimes change is required, but at other times a slight shift will do the trick.

Here’s a little bit more about each one, and the tonics which help you combat them:

1. “Yeah, but…”

— the throwing up of justification and excuse
We’ll often be careful about making excuses, but it’s quick and easy to come up with reasons that justify why we do what we do. Is there really any difference between the two? It’s harder to curb that defensive, self-protective impulse, and the trick is to replace it with something else, by asking ourselves, “Hmm… What if I try it?” instead.

You don’t have to feel you’re giving in to others who give you suggestions: Give yourself time to think about it, and say so. Whenever a “Yeah, but…” begins that impulsive itch in your vocal chords, say, “Let me think about that a bit more.” instead. Then ask a question about it, so you can begin to engage with the idea: Flirt with it. Ask for more information about the idea or suggestion so you can trigger the curiosity lying within your own interests. Curiosity is the tonic which cures resistance, for that’s what “Yeah, but…” is: Resistance, and you need to root out the cause of your push-back or hesitation.

“Curiosity [can be] neglected [because] it operates below the surface of our desires. It’s not as simple as thinking positive, being optimistic, being grateful, being kind, or feeling good. Being curious is about how we relate to our thoughts and feelings. It’s not about whether we pay attention, but how we pay attention to what is happening in the present.”
— Todd Kashdan, Ph.D. In Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life

2. Should-ing

— working within other’s expectations, instead of within your own
Alas, this one has stuck around since we were kids, due to an entire cadre of caring, well-meaning adults giving us advice in the guise of teaching, coaching and growing us. Their telling us what to do, robbed us of more practice in those early years, of telling ourselves what to do, or what to try, or how to dream our impossible dreams.

Well-intentioned advice turned into limiting expectations. We get to be adults, and find we’re saddled with “being reasonable” or “being responsible” when we should do the exact opposite, and push the envelope as hard, and as relentlessly and creatively as we can. We discover that we can’t work within our own expectations, because we haven’t really set any to begin with (as opposed to working on those set by others). No wonder goal-setting is so tough for so many!

Don’t let that be you: Dabble. Experiment. Dream crazy and dream bigger. Refuse to entertain ‘feasible’ and get edgy and rebellious. Should-ing is a burden which contains you, and you need to unburden yourself and break free. You’re an adult now, and the only one stopping you is you.

“Should-ing is a by-product of our cultural obsession with being well rounded and the prevailing corporate demand that we capitalize on our so-called areas of opportunity. This voice is powerful and persuasive, but you must not listen to it. If those activities make you feel drained, frustrated, or burned out, you should not be doing them, or at least not much of them, and not for too long.”
— Marcus Buckingham in Go, Put Your Strengths to Work explaining that stopping your should-ing is how we can curb the draining effects of our weaknesses.

3. My way or the highway

— the opposite of the first two, this is about resting on your laurels and/or refusing to collaborate with others, neglecting to make room for them
It’s the rare person who has this attitude of The Condescending Loner and keeps portraying it intentionally. Something else is going on: What are you protecting, and why? Does it really need your protection, or could it actually benefit from some liberation? Go off-roading, and slip a ways down that rabbit trail!

The more common occurrence of this Robber will concern the lack of partnership in your team dynamics (as it did for me), where you are too narrowly focused, or are becoming territorial. I know it’s a strong word, but unfortunately, territorial behavior runs rampant in business. Your immediate team becomes your everything, and it’s hard to let others inside. You risk the danger of being exclusive instead of inclusive, keeping diversity at arms length. Reset, and recharge with the value of KĀKOU.

Go for more abundance as your tonic: This Robber is motivated by scarcity-thinking, and you need to work on making room for the abundance which is possible — and which is likely to make your team’s work far more interesting. If you manage with strong values, you need not fear dilution. Quite the opposite in fact; abundance-thinking opens you up to partnership, corroboration, and stronger alliances.

4. “Not meant for me”

— self-doubt, self-limiting behavior, and the problem of low self-esteem
Do not confuse this with modesty or humility, and recognize it as the problem it can be for you. Others will see it as shaky confidence, a lack of self-assurance, a deficit in initiative and a drain on team energy.

“This isn’t meant for me.” is a self-fulfilling prophecy: If that’s what you believe, you’re right in saying you’ve limited yourself. You’ve slammed shut the doors to greater possibility. You cannot achieve something you won’t entertain: Our pictures of our future need to be painted in bright, bold, compelling colors so we reach for them.

You need more vision, yet I do understand how tough this can be.

One answer, and it’s a great answer for many of us, can be to enroll in another leader’s cause: Share in a passion that’s near and dear to your heart (no should-ing now, you choose!) and be the epitome of the supporter, real-life example and champion. Put your signature on exceptional followership (you can start by sharing more comments here on Managing with Aloha!). Being a good follower is NOT a passive activity, and it can be the best value-verbing practice you can apply your efforts to, until the day you choose to lead your own charge.

Additional thoughts: I have written this article in the vein of self-coaching. However, if you truly feel the depression associated with chronic self-doubt and low self-esteem, please get some help, knowing that asking for help is the bravest, smartest thing you can do. Don’t go it alone: Value the gift of your life.

Short of true depression, this is where Alaka‘i Managers shine, giving their gifts to the world. They are quick to encourage people, saying “Just try it, won’t you? I promise you: I’ll be here to help you navigate any mistakes as you learn this, and I’ll catch you if you fall.”

5. “I can’t”

— …when you really mean, “I won’t”, and/or “I don’t want to talk about it.” — this is a ploy to delay, or outright denial, and a lack of courage
Do you need to get rid of your busy-ness? That’s often an easy fix, and we needn’t dig much deeper — do your fixing! Ask your brutal questions in Letting Go, and explore root causes anytime you catch yourself saying, “I just can’t” even when you qualify it, saying “at least not now, maybe later.” — you know that’s a ploy, and you don’t intend for there to be any later. Deal with your cause now.

In my experience, the lack of courage is an extreme case or early symptom of something else — the longer we manage, the more courageous we usually will get. Denial is tricky: It’s another kind of saboteur connected to refusal, and is rarely ‘outright’ or obvious, so you have to put out your resistance feelers to identify your push-back with more specificity. If it is denial, admit it, and tackle it head on.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” is another clue, and a strong one: It’s another ploy of impatience and denial. This one gets dangerous as self-talk, for we rarely will say it out loud, knowing that the people who care about us (or who are frustrated with us) will say, “Why the hell not?” So say it to yourself: “Why the hell not?” You of all people should know: Talking story works, and it works wonders!

If you have other experiences with Possibility Robbers, please share them.

Tell us about the better tactics and tonics you have discovered as well. How did you banish your own Robbers, or shift team behaviors?

And thank you for reading: I queued this up for the weekend, knowing it was the longest article I have written here so far, but it is so, so important. Do not allow these Possibility Robbers into your life. Be the remarkable star of incredible ALOHA I know you are.

We Ho‘ohana ka ‘Imi ola Kākou, together,
~ Rosa

Postscript: “Yeah, but” in its Professional Suiting

When Managing with Aloha was first published, I encountered “Yeah, but” when it puts on a suit — or another industry-specific ‘professional’ costume. The arm-crossers in my audiences, who had not read my book, and were there only because someone else asked them to be there, were very quick to say, “Yeah, but you came from the hospitality industry, and we’re in manufacturing.” or “Yeah, but you came from the private sector, and things are different for us in the public sector (or in non-profits)” or even, “Yeah, but the people I work with are nothing like the people you worked with.” Oh my. If only they could listen to themselves, hearing what I was hearing! There were so many faulty assumptions in their statements, and so much resistance in their body language.

I didn’t buy it then, and I don’t ever buy it now. As an Alaka‘i Manager, neither should you. If they could’ve withheld quick judgement, and stopped erecting walls bricked with justifications, they’d have heard the victim mentality in those statements, for I wasn’t talking about challenging their industry identity, and turning it into the hospitality business (though a little more HO‘OKIPA service and hospitality never hurt anyone). I pulled their managers aside afterwards whenever it was possible to do so, asking them to seek out the root cause of that defensiveness, so they could talk about it more honestly, and then address it.

The Managing with Aloha message has always been about working on the way you work as the remarkable, ALOHA-powered person you are, so it can be the rewarding work of your HO‘OHANA. In no way am I discounting your area of expertise or the unique character of your profession, but service/product, profit/non-profit, public/private does not matter.

If you feel this way, expand your professional network so it is less incestuous. Jump into social media, and converse: The people you will meet are fascinating! Please start to benchmark other industries as your tonic, not just those industries similar to yours: It’s one of the best ways to get fresh ideas, and do the good questioning of visionary thinking.

About Rosa Say

Rosa is the author of Managing with Aloha. She’s a writer and photo-taker, a workplace culture coach, and a zealous advocate of managers everywhere. She’s a wife and mom, sister and daughter, manager, leader and worker bee, living the best life she can, just like you. Learn more about Rosa at


  1. Roselia Conrad says:

    Yes, don’t… SHOULD OF …all over me!!! I loved this blog of Robbers!! How could anyone not see those THIEVES. I sure could not for many years. Not so now, and it a brand new day!!! Seeing the thieves hiding out in the doorway, in wait… looking them square in the eyes, is an empowering moment. Mahalo nui loa.

    • Rosa Say says:

      I think this is true for most of us Roselia: We experience surprise before denial, usually unable to see these in ourselves until someone else points them out. And when we start to see them, kaboom!

  2. Rosa Say says:

    An update: Anne and I talk story about “the shoulds” in the comment boxes here.


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