Monday, October 10, 2011

Speaking Decisively

It never fails. Whenever I consider a new purchase, it is made very clear to me just how abundant that very item is. If I am shopping for a new car, the road becomes filled with the same make and model of which I am most interested. If I am researching a new electronic gadget, everyone else seems to have one. I know I am far from alone on this and clearly, this is nothing more than the result of being more subconsciously aware of certain aspects of our surroundings.

Recently, I reached my tipping point regarding the use of noncommittal language and now I find myself surrounded by it. Think about it, how many people do you know who hide their true feelings through the use of such words as "Sure", "Interesting", "I don't care", and the latest "Just sayin'"? It started when I began noticing a colleague of mine repeatedly responding to most things he observed as "interesting", nothing more and nothing less. Now, don't get me wrong, with a little amplification, that can be a powerful response. For example,

Q: I've been working on this project for two months now, what do you think of it?

A1: I've read it and your use of non-traditional language and unique graphics to creatively communicate the message was an interesting approach and it really made things stick.

A2: It was an interesting approach but something that you need to rethink. I think you missed the mark on this one.

A3: Interesting.

I would take A1 or A2 anytime over A3. A simple "interesting" without any explanation as to why we find things interesting is absolutely useless. When information is shared or feedback is invited, a thoughtful and clearly communicated response is the reciprocation of choice. I told my colleague that his standard response bothered me and that I interpreted it as his way of saying he disapproved of the information I was sharing or didn't like my idea and just didn't have the guts to tell me. I also reminded him that as a teammate, he had a responsibility to either refute or validate such an assessment.

I don't know about you, but I like to be with people who are constructively honest with each other, will tell the emperor when he's not wearing any clothes, and choose to acknowledge any and all elephants in the room. I don't want to spend time with people who choose to appease others only to share their honest opinions or point and laugh after the fact. I guess I like people who care enough to share their true feelings and speak frankly.

When someone asks us where we would like to eat dinner, why is "I don't care" a response we consider? When someone asks us to do them a favor, why would "sure" even roll off our tongue? Truth is we do care where/what we eat (at least we should) and we either want to help another or we are unable to do so. An "I don't care" doesn't help with the decision on where to eat and if we really don't care why are we even going (our only care might be that we go to a place those with whom we are eating would enjoy, but we still care)? If another person needs our help, why not an emphatic "yes" or an apologetic "sorry, I can't right now" (intentional or not, "Sure" implies at least a hint of reluctance)?

Lastly, I hear the phrase "Just sayin'" over and over again more and more...

"The door is open and it's cold outside, just sayin'."
"We're all out of coffee, just sayin'."
"The house is a mess, the bills are stacking high, you don't have a job..."just sayin'."

Odds are we're never "just sayin'", just afraid to speak directly. Why not...

"Would you please close the door?"
"Would you please make some more coffee?"
"I'm concerned about our situation as a family and think we need to do something about it."

Let's care enough to be authentic, let's care enough to speak decisively.


  1. Interesting. Just saying.

    Another really thoughtful post. I enjoy them all. I have ALWAYS appreciated your authenticity. I am seeing more and more of you at the INTERSECTION of some really good ideas. It's a good place to be.

  2. There may be a risk of reading too much into the situation when someone says "I don't care." For example, if someone asks me to go out to dinner, I usually don't care where we eat -- at least, I don't care to the extent that I feel like laying out a list of options. I would likely not actually say "I don't care," but rather, "Your choice," which is pretty much the same thing. I am more interested in spending time with the person I will be dining with than I am with WHERE we are spending our time.

    As for "just sayin'": I really hate that phrase, as well as the variant, "Know what I'm sayin'?" Whenever someone says that to me, my invariable response is, "No, I don't know what you're saying. Please say what you mean."


  3. Thanks for the comments...

    Captain - You are right, life is good at the intersection!

    s - I like your style. I would imagine that you clearly communicate (through words or actions) exactly what (or who) it about which you care. Though I may not have articulated it as well as you, I share your sentiment. Thanks.

  4. So, I'd argue that the choice to use wishy-washy qualifiers to respond to someone's idea may be as much about trying to avoid the typical rancor of on-line debate, as it is about an inability to commit. I will often respond with muted criticism to an idea proposed by someone (particularly on-line), because there is an insane amount of partisan bickering on-line and off-line, and I don't want a thoughtful discussion to devolve into name-calling.

    I believe we both want to clearly rebut something we disagree with. Yet sometimes we are restricted to twitter-size bursts of context-free information. How can we avoid irritating the recipient because he/she happens to read our tweet or comment when they're in a bad mood?

    For me, if I want to have a positive effect in an on-line discussion, sometimes I choose to phrase things more tentatively than is typical in military discourse. If you know a better way to thread the needle between polite discourse and firm commitment to a point, I'd love to hear it.

  5. Sometimes I'm too hungry to think of what I want to eat. :-)

    Sometimes I ask my husband what he'd like for dinner, and he really has no preferences. I'd like for him to name something, so I don't have to guess, but he'll come home too hungry to think of what he wants to eat, so it all works out in the bigger picture.

    What I don't like is when someone says "Does that make sense?" Sometimes I end up saying "I understand the words but I don't agree with you," or "Does it make sense to you?" And that's too much work for me, conversationally speaking. :-)