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Three indecisiveness phrases, and when (not) to use them

I'd like to tell you about three phrases you and I use that actually mean the opposite, and, when used improperly, hurt productivity and weaken your mind (Gasp!) Fear not, I'll also share the only times they are OK to use. And I'll start with a biggie.

"Let me think about it"

This is a classic in being indecisive. Situation: Have you ever been asked for something or had an offer made to you and you answered "Let me think about it"? Typically what this answer really means is "The answer is no, but I don't want to disappoint you so I'm going to pretend to think about it." Implied in this is "...and I hope you forget to bring it up again." Nasty!

In this case, you're is using the phrase as a crutch, and it has a cost:

  1. It's going to dog you until it's resolved.
  2. You're misleading someone and wasting their time; it's disrespectful.
  3. You're training yourself to be indirect and less decisive.

What you're really doing trading is clarity for a temporary reprieve in disappointing someone. It's a bad practice. If you know the answer, train yourself to be direct (but sensitive) and get closure right then. If you want to leave the bridge open, fine, but not if you really don't want to discuss the issue again.

That said, this phrase does have a few specific productive uses:

  • You need to collect more information. However, ask yourself whether this is an excuse to put off deciding. It's frequently better to make a decision early on, with less than 100% of possible information, than to strive for perfection. Most decisions can be mitigated later.
  • You need to clear or verify it with someone else. In this case, commit to a specific date to get back to them, no longer than a few days.
  • Germination: You really might have to let it germinate. The blogosphere is rife with creativity stories around the subconscious, and hey - who am I to take away your productive shower time ;-) But be honest about whether you really need to sit on it.

Here are a few rules if you do decide to defer:

  • Only one defer allowed per person. Think of it as a rare coupon you don't want to squander.
  • Make your decision time bound: Limit how much you're willing to spend on it, and don't make it too big - one hour max, say.
  • Commit to a decision by a specific date (no longer than a week), and tell it to them. Then keep your word.

"Let's get together sometime"

This really means "I'm not interested (or mildly interested), but not enough to follow through." The solution here is simple: Pick a date. I found myself weaseling out last week. I really did want to get together with a friend and peer, but I was having a weak moment and used the phrase. It felt weird. Thank goodness she called me on it and said "Let's set a date. how about next Monday at lunch time?"

A common variation: "We'll be in touch" - sadly not uncommon when applying for a job or sending an unwanted proposal. Please, put me out of my misery and get it over with! (I'm told companies sometimes get so inundated with resumes that they make it easier on themselves by not sending "sorry" letters. I don't respect this practice. Disclaimer: I've never been in the hiring role.)


This is a true classic, and often means "That's really uninteresting" and/or "I disagree but don't want to get into it with you." To be fair, this can also mean "I don't understand or agree, but I'm willing to think about it." Also, it rally depends on the tone.

Instead of saying this, try getting into question asking mode and being genuinely curious. (For more, see How to help people, step 1.)

(An example: I once sent a resume to a company, waited a few weeks, heard nothing, then called the hiring person. She said "We got your resume. It was ... interesting." Her tone made me think "We thought your use of crayons for the resume was innovative." Not getting hired worked out much better, BTW.)


Do you have any favorites? A few others:

  • "Send me a brochure" ("I'm not interested, but I won't say so.")
  • "That's something" ("I have no idea what to do with this gift.")
  • "She's not here right now" ("She's here, but she doesn't want to talk to you."
  • "Thank you for sharing" ("That was wildly inappropriate. Save it for you psychiatrist."

Reader Comments (22)

I'll see what I can do. - I promise nothing

Why don't we have that conversation after this meeting. - Let's stop having this conversation now, and maybe it'll never happen again.

Let's schedule a meeting to talk about that. - This conversation involves lots of angles, lets call a meeting to ensure that we don't have a good conversation.

...worse... This meeting has been called to talk about X. - We are gathered here to mourn the topic ox X, as now it has been raised in a meeting it will be impossible to talk meaningfully about it.

February 12, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbrent

Terrific ones, Brent! ISWICD is a another classic.

February 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

How about "we're not interested at this time", which usually means "we are not interested now and will never be interested in the future". It's a little more subtle in that there is an honest acknowledgment of disinterest, but you still offer some false sense of hope for future interest.

In fairness, I think people say these sorts of things because they think they are respecting other people's pride. In many cases we don't want to hurt the other person's feelings so we say something non-committal, though we know our disinterest is firm. Perhaps, as you point out, it is actually quite disrespectful. In a way, it is kind of patronizing as we are assuming that the person cannot handle rejection. Maybe it says more about us - maybe we are the ones who cannot handle rejection and so we give these kinds of answers.

So it isn't just the art of saying "no", but also perhaps a matter of our own self confidence.

February 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrick

Brick - Good one. And I agree about the pride, and your analysis vs. respect. I've been on the receiving end of this kind of directness, and it's taken some work to get used to (and to not take it personally). It's a good issue.

P.S. I enjoyed your [ blog posts | http://www.fourhourworkweekjournal.com/ ] .

February 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hmmm. . . "Let me think about it."

I just used that one today after being given the total cost of repairs and maintenance on my car. Yep, consulted the spouse and the Internet before calling back to give my decision!

About "interesting." I use that one at times when I feel compelled to reply, but haven't yet formulated what I want to say.

Someone told me and my husband that our wedding was "interesting." :-D

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLisa Braithwaite

Thanks, Lisa. The wedding story made be chuckle. Was it an alternative one?

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I think that in general you're right, Matt. On the other hand, this take is a little cynical. Sometimes I remind myself to take statements at face value. If other people aren't clear or honest, well, that's not really my issue, even if it sometimes has repercussions which effect me. Personally, when I say to my kids, "I'll have to think about it," I actually go and think about it. And when I say something is interesting, I really mean it interests me. It kind of bums me out to think that my friends might think I'm hedging. Oh, well.

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercrs

oh, btw, "crs" is me, rainier.

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercrs

Hey Rainier - No, you're quite right. Ideally, these phrases would be used in the "high integrity" mode that you work in. It's just that I've seen (and done it myself) them used to put off those sometimes difficult decisions.

Thanks for your comment!

February 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

For me the key diagnostic is - did either of you write anything down? If nobody did, that is a signal that you don't want to remember it: deciding by "forgetting"

February 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTimon

Timon - Excellent one. Not writing down something doesn't necessarily mean they won't act on it, but it's a good measure. [ Jason Womack | http://www.jasonwomack.com/Home.html ] told me of an experience he had on a flight. While talking with someone he said he'd send her something. When he wrote it down, she said "You're really going to do this, aren't you." Awesome moment...

February 15, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Excellent pose as usual, Matt! I started a similar post nearly two years ago. You inspired me to resurrect it, update it, and actually publish it. You can find that post on my own blog:

February 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRicky Spears

Excellent post, Matt. I'm guilty of using all of those phrases, but I've established a couple of rules for myself. The first is what you suggest:

If I say "interesting," I have to follow-up with a question. That does two things: 1) gives the impression that I really AM interested and 2) if I'm not interested, usually helps me re-engage with the topic.

"Interesting" is only a valid adjective if you follow-up with the "interest" that has been provoked. This is the general rule in writing and in conversation.

Second Rule: If I say, "Let me think about it" it goes on my ToDo list (I use Toodledo)immediately. I find that I only "think" about things if I schedule the time to do so.

I still struggle with the "let's get together" issue. Sometimes it is a matter of feeling very anti-social just at that moment.

I will say that "send me a brochure" has validity for me. I don't accept telephone solicitations, so I will often say, "We don't accept telephone solicitation, but if you'd like to send me some literature, I will read it." I do read it. I keep a file of charitable organizations that look interesting to whom I might contribute in the next cycle. I make a note that it was sent as a result of a phone call (demonstrates follow-through on their part, which is always good). If I'm truly NOT interested, I tell them to take me off their list and not to send me anything.

February 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Hi Ricky - I'm glad of the inspiration - you have some [ good ones | http://rickyspears.com/blog/?p=109 ] (with my short comments): "I’ll Try to" (weak - should be more decisive), "I’m Busy" (I'm *too* busy is better, but insensitive), "I Don’t Have Time" (same as previous), "[I'll get to it] Tomorrow" (i.e., never - but then again there's Mark Forster's [ Do It Tomorrow | http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0340909129?ie=UTF8&tag=masidbl-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0340909129 ].), and "Spend Time" (hmmm - not sure if this isn't just semantics...). Thanks!

February 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hi Rebecca,

Thanks for your comment. I really like your "interesting" follow-up questions. Very positive. I also appreciate your tracking of LMTAI - it means what you say has integrity.

Re: "let's get together" - I amidst I tend to say this when I mean "I'd like to continue this relationship, but I'm not ready right now." The trouble is, this leaves it in the air... Maybe it's an example of "tossing it into the wind" to see if the seed germinates.

Re: brochures, your approach makes sense. I was using a different example. First, I *never* sell - I have conversations and mostly listen. If someone has interest, I tell them a bit more. Very low key. However, sometimes I get inquiries from referrals, and they ask for a brochure. Because I don't send information to people who don't want it, I don't do it. I invite a conversation, which quickly rules out people who aren't actually interested. And that's fine with me.

Great points!

February 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Well, I honestly use the word "interesting" for lack of a better word. But I really do find whatever it is I'm referring to interesting. But I have to agree that I sometimes use the "Let me think about it" tactic on other people. And ooh, that "Let's get together sometimes" has been a recent favorite of mine. I apologize to all the people I have used that on! :)

Hi Jen - I like your authentic usage of 'interesting' - I'm sure that comes across. And I'm glad you fessed up to the others ;-)

February 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

My overall question, regarding these statements, is - what's wrong with saying exactly what's on our mind? Have we become that "Pleasantville" that we would disrespect people this way? I would rather you tell me how you feel, so I can move on and find the next avenue if I need to.

April 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEric

Hey Eric. I'm not sure what you mean.

For example, I completely agree about integrity, and saying what's on your mind. It's good for all concerned, as long as it's not meant to be hurtful. I just wrote this quote: "A person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have." I'm good with that.

I guess I'm missing your point - If you're saying it's fine to say these phrases if they are exactly what you mean, then I agree. It's when someone is saying them to avoid telling the truth, it's something to reflect on.

Thanks for your comment.

April 15, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Laura liked this one and shared it with her readers, at both her [ Amazon Blog | http://www.amazon.com/gp/blog/post/PLNK3L23NX62GNBZ1 ] and her [ professional one | http://www.theproductivitypro.com/blog/2008/07/three-indecisiveness-phrases-and-when-not-to-use-them-matthew-cornell/ ]. Thanks a bunch, Laura.

July 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

I found this post very interesting...and, I really do mean "interesting"! LOL!

Context is a consideration.

Sometimes the time may not be right. You may be told, "I'll think about it," because it's easier than saying, "Money is tight," or "My spouse is having health concerns," or....

The undercurrent is that it's personal and they don't wish to divulge their life story at this time.

It's important to keep the doors open...I know that I've gone back 2 years later to do business because the person did understand that the time wasn't right.

Your solution to "let's get together" is perfect...we're all so busy, that unless it's booked, time runs away from us. I know some of my friends are grateful when I do the organizing. They're also stressed, so have trouble getting organized to arrange something.

For our own well-being, it is important to know that we can create stress for ourselves by not taking care of the simple decisions, as you've pointed out. Stress impedes our ability to make effective decisions. 'Round and 'round it goes.

I know that the point you're making is that we're not direct in our language. A lot has to do with cultural upbringing and the conversational gambits that are being used. For example, there's often vast differences in communication styles between the wife's family and that of the husband's. Sometimes, it may seem like treading on foreign soil without even leaving the country!

There was a post on LinkedIn about phrases that irritated people, which was as varied as the people who posted them. "To tell the truth." "You know, ...." are some of the examples.

Language and how we use it or don't use it is always a fascinating study.

March 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarianna

excellent points

> Context is a consideration

That's the best point of all. Well said.

> It's important to keep the doors open...I know that I've gone back 2 years later to do business because the person did understand that the time wasn't right.

Great story. I need to hear this right now, so good timing.

> vast differences in communication styles

Yep! Venus Mars business.

Thanks a ton, Marianna.

April 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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