Five Basic Responses That Will Improve Accountability – Guaranteed

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It crossed my mind once or twice that my life would be much improved if I’d simply take a vow of silence.

In fact, I once said to a good friend, “I think I’m going to take a vow of silence. I’ll only speak when spoken to and avoid offering any opinion, suggestion, or comment.”

“You’re crazy,” my friend snorted disdainfully.

She continued. “I mean, I think you would get in less trouble if you stopped talking. But you’ll never be able to pull it off.”

When words failed me …

My good friend was also wise. My word diet failed.

That was 10 years ago.

So imagine my delight when I read How the 5 Basic Responses’ Can Improve Accountability in Your Company in the Philadelphia Business Journal.

“Whoa!” I thought. “Maybe I’ve finally found the answer to all my problems! If I can train myself to give five basic responses, no matter who’s asking what, who knows how my life could change!”

I wasn’t that interested in the accountability part — I just wanted to learn five pat answers to any question so I could stop getting in trouble.

5 answers to improve accountability

The author of the article, Ingar Grev, is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds an MS and MBA from the University of Maryland. The five responses are culled from his Navy days, and they are:

  • Yes.
  • No.
  • Aye-Aye. (I understand your instructions, and I will do as you directed.)
  • No excuse. (I screwed up, and I’ll fix it.)
  • I’ll find out.

Grev’s premise is that these brief responses can increase accountability in organizations because they’re simple, direct, clear, and demand the speaker’ownership.

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A defense against crazy co-workers

I like these answers as a defense against crazy-making bosses and co-workers who say nutso things and then stare at you waiting for a reaction. (I hate that.)

But I’m thinking these could work as intended, too, because answering:

  • Yes;
  • No;
  • Aye-Aye;
  • No excuse; and,
  • I’ll find out

… also prevents the need for conversation that start with:

See, what had happened was …” or “Well …” or “I don’t know. What do you think?

  • Yes.
  • No.
  • Aye-Aye.
  • No excuse.
  • I’ll find out.

That’s all. Cut the crap and cut the angst.

I’m going to try it.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at


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