There are two words that I hear people say in both business and personal relationships that don’t belong there. I recommend that you remove these words from your vocabulary, or at least save them for the times you should actually use them.
When I was a child, if you had asked me if my mother would ever allow a curse word to cross her lips, I would have said, “NEVER”. I will always remember the day that she injured herself in a backyard accident and a plethora of profanity streamed out. I was shocked! But it was an understandable circumstance. That was the day I learned that my mother was human.
Recently, I asked one of my associates to follow-up on something that I thought had been missed and the response I received was, “I always do that”. Really? Always? The only reason I asked was that, this time, I saw that it hadn’t been done.
The point is that words like “Never” and “Always” are absolute by their very definitions. There’s no allowance for error, missed opportunity, or simple humanity. Regardless of the actual intent, we can set ourselves up for miscommunications or failing to meet expectations when we use these words.
I interviewed someone for a job a while ago and the candidate told me that she was always on time for work. I smiled at the remark but also knew that it was unlikely for her to reach that goal. Snowstorms, traffic accidents, road construction, power failures, sick children are all reasons that could cause someone to be late for work. These circumstances don’t come about often, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. You can’t promise “always” if you live in the real world.
The problem is that we create unrealistic expectations for ourselves and other people when we make claims of “never” or “always.” It’s unfair to place this level of super-human pressure on human beings.
This is not to say that I don’t have extremely high expectations of people; indeed, I do (as anyone who is related to me or has worked with me can confirm). But there’s an important difference between having high expectations and accepting nothing but perfection. Humans make mistakes.
So what would have been a better response from the candidate interviewing for the job? I would have preferred hearing something such as, “I am very conscientious and do my very best to be on time for work every day.” I prefer people who are conscientious and committed without believing (or communicating) that they are perfect.
As a manager, it wouldn’t be helpful or reasonable for me to tell an employee that they must always do a certain task at a certain time every day. It’s unlikely that they will be able to do it “always.” This unreasonable expectation also reduces accountability, eliminates empowerment, and creates resentment, which will not help create successful, contributing, motivated employees. Instead, if you explain why a particular task is important to their job, the customer, the company, they can determine the best way to accomplish that task. This is a much better option than micro-managing them to the point that they no longer feel like a human being.
Imagine someone was told that they must ALWAYS stay behind the reception desk. One day, someone 10 feet away from them collapses to the floor, but the receptionist doesn’t feel that they can leave their station and help this person because they were told to ALWAYS stay there. This may seem like a silly scenario, but in today’s society, we seem to train employees to do what they are told rather than to do the right thing.
As an employee, I should refrain from making always or never statements such as “my projects are always delivered on time” or “my projects are never late”. Unless you are a time traveler, you cannot make that guarantee. And it could come back to bite you depending on what sort of manager you have. Instead, saying something like, “I will do my best to make certain that the project is delivered on time including working closely with vendors to help manage the delivery requirements.” On a resume, something like, “I consistently complete my assigned projects on time,” will serve you better than an “always” claim.
These rules apply in personal relationships as well. Telling your spouse that you will never leave your socks on the floor or that a child must always makes his bed does not allow for any expectations or reasonable explanations or even the humanity of a sick day.
Let’s be careful with our words.
“Always” and “never” create unrealistic expectations for ourselves and the people around us. I much prefer creativity, humanness, communication, flexibility, and a strong work ethic.
Remember, ALWAYS take my advice. You’ll NEVER regret it!