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Stop Trying – Especially on the Phone

This year I’m taking you through my lexicon of phone words  – words that create powerful conversations on the phone as well as those that cause confusion or even miscommunication. One of the biggest culprits of the latter situation is the word “try”.

Whether you use it as a noun or a verb, “try” means to attempt something but not necessarily achieve it. When we use this word in face-to-face conversation, our body language amplifies our meaning.

For example, if we are working on a project together and part of it depends on you finishing some research on your own, you might say “I’ll try to get that done by Wednesday.” In person, your tone of voice, your facial expression and your posture will combine to inform me about the intent of your “try”.

The word can be interpreted in at least four ways:

1) I’m not really going to do it;

2) I’m not sure I can do it;

3) I’m going to attempt it but don’t believe I can do it; or

4) I’m going to do it but I’m uncertain of when/how I’ll get it done.

On the phone it’s not always obvious which meaning applies. For clarity, I suggest avoiding the word completely. For example:

1) I’m not going to get that done;

2) I don’t know how to do it;

3) I’ll do my best but I’m not confident I can do it; or

4) I’ll attempt to get it done by Wednesday, but I might need more time.

I encourage you to notice how the word “try” is used in phone conversations this week. When it’s said to you, how does it make you feel about the other person’s abilities or commitment? If you say it, what did you mean and was your meaning clear to the other person?

Enjoy your PhoneWork everyone!

6 thoughts on “Stop Trying – Especially on the Phone”

  1. Hi Mary Jane,

    Thanks for this post. I like your interpretation and the alternatives you provide to avoid the word entirely. Many years ago, a mentor of mine shared his understanding of the word “try” with me. He told me when he hears someone say ‘try”, he interprets it as ‘I will not” and then presses the individual for a commitment one way or the other and offers his assistance to complete the task, where appropriate . I have never forgotten his advice and have conducted myself accordingly. Still today , I hear his voice when someone says “try” in my presence or when I mess up and use it myself.

    I Enjoy all your posts and I “will” continue to read then each week.

    • Thanks, Stephen, for sharing your story. I think the notion of pressing people a bit when they use the phrase is a great idea. Gives them an opportunity to identify what they mean when they use the word.

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