In looking back at my 2016, I see a trend starting that I would like to stop immediately. I am realizing that I have a hard time giving bad news, saying no, or asking for things, and I tend to add qualifiers or say things I don’t mean in order to soften a blow or decline an offer.
So, I'm writing myself this post that contains a list of things I will stop saying in 2017 as a reference for myself. Starting now, I will start approaching each interaction with confidence and/or honesty and stop diminishing myself or making excuses.
As in, “I just wanted to send you an email to check in,” or “I was just wondering”. Not only does emailing someone not need a qualifier that you are “just” doing something, the sentence itself flows better without the “just” undermining the point. I am not asking for permission to email or inquire about an outstanding payment, so I shouldn’t imply that I need to or tiptoe around bad news. Instead, I will just remove the “just” and hit send. It’s fine without it, and I sound much more professional and sure of myself.
- "I’m sorry" (part one)
I use this when I say “I’m sorry, even though you are a friend/co-worker/brother’s neighbor I won’t be able to take your family pictures for free and then be on the hook for edits and any copies you want made of the pictures after they are taken.” Also used when “I’m sorry” I’m not going to be able to your last-minute event, “I’m sorry” I don’t work for free, or “I’m sorry” I can’t take on that PTA committee. Instead, I will say that I cannot do the free pictures, that I’m busy and cannot make the event or take on the committee, or that I need to be compensated for my work just like everyone else expects to.
- "I’m sorry" (part two)
Somewhere along the line I began to say “I’m sorry” when I meant “excuse me”. I’m sorry shouldn’t be used to excuse the fact that I also need to pass in an aisle that you are taking up most of the space in, and I’m sorry shouldn’t be used when you are asking someone you don’t know to stop doing something. Instead, I will say “excuse me” as I go to pass someone, and I will say “excuse me young child at the park, please don’t throw sand in my son’s face” or “excuse me, you’re standing on my foot”. There’s a time and a place for “I’m sorry”, and I already use that more than I probably should. I’m going to take it out of my vocabulary those times when I’m not sorry that I also want to shop in a store or am not sorry that I’m asking for someone to treat me or my children with respect.
Very rarely do I actually mean “unfortunately” when I say it these days. It’s not unfortunate that I don’t work for free, it’s not unfortunate that I can’t watch your children every day before and after school, and it’s not unfortunate that I already have plans when you email me a last minute invite. If it’s something I am deciding not to do, I will own it and simply decline the invite/obligation. From now on, I will only use “unfortunately” when I’m sending regrets that I cannot make an event that I am extremely glad I was invited to, or when I’ve been dying to do something and instead am stuck going somewhere I really would prefer not to. That is worthy of an “unfortunately,” and I will use it in those circumstances only, not to express regret that I simply don’t want to do something.
- "I’m afraid I can’t"
Why am I pretending that I’m afraid of my own choices? If I can’t do something, I can’t. I am not "afraid" of it and don’t need to sugar coat it. Unless I’m using “I’m afraid I can’t” to describe something I am truly afraid of, like heights, or climbing onto the roof with a tall ladder, I will just drop the “I’m afraid” altogether.
- "I don’t have time for ____"
The thing is, everyone has time for whatever they make time for. It’s not that I don’t have time to reorganize my spices alphabetically or make my own beauty products from scratch, it’s that it is not a priority to me. I can find my spices just fine the way they are and I have no desire to learn how to make mascara. I could make time for both of these things, but I don’t think they are priorities. The same is true for taking on extra roles at the school or for whatever project you’re suggesting I donate my time to that I don’t want to. I need to learn how to decline and just say “no” without adding a qualifier. The reverse of this is also true and I need to revisit items that always seem to remain on my to-do list because I’ve deemed I don’t have time for them and come to the realization that me not making time for them is the same as saying “this isn’t a priority”. If they *should* be a priority and for some reason aren’t, I need to make changes in the way I spend my time.
- "No problem"
Whenever someone says “thank you”, my inclination is to say “no problem”, even if what they are thanking me for took up tons of my time and energy. I don’t need to dismiss my role in whatever they are thanking me for by implying it wasn’t a big deal. Instead, I will simply say “you’re welcome” or “happy to help” and leave it at that.
- "Let me know if I can do anything to help"
…unless I really, truly mean anything. There are some situations in which I would literally do whatever I possibly could to help someone, but there are others in which I would be happy to help with only certain things. I need to get better about saying what I would like to offer help with, like taking your kids for a few hours while you renovate your house or bringing you food while you’re sick, instead of leaving the invitation open-ended. The other problem with leaving it open-ended is that some people have a tough time asking for help in the first place and when someone gives a vague “let me know…” it puts it all on the person who is already struggling to come up with something they can ask for help with. Instead I can say, “Can I bring you food?” or “Would it help you if I _____?” as it gives a starting point to offering help and doesn’t over-offer myself. If I decide to offer even more help at that point, I can make that call as I’m asked.
- "When you get a moment"
I tend to use this phrase to diminish something that actually is important and not simply when I’m letting someone know that they don’t have to rush to return my call because I was calling to chat. I don’t really mean that I want you to check as to why my overdue invoice isn’t getting paid or why my important package isn’t here “when you get a moment”. While I’m not going to start flagging my own emails as “urgent” if they aren’t truly emergencies, I’m going to stop giving people reasons to put off following up with me.
- "I’ll let you know if anything changes"
This is typically used to soften the blow of me not wanting to work with someone or declining an offer or invite. Even though I realize that me saying this actually leaves another open door that I may have to revisit, I tend to throw this out after I have taken a stand, only to weaken the stand I just made. Instead, I will stop using this phrase unless I’m talking about something that is beyond my control, such as when my flight will get in or when an external deadline is set for, and I will not suggest there will be changes to decisions I have already made.