Things successful leaders avoid saying (part 4)

The phrase “I don’t care” is often used to give permission. It may be splitting hairs to talk about this phrase, but this blog has often been picky about the words that we use. Words are important.

Three points, in order from least subtle to most subtle:

  1. It’s dismissive. If you are interested in engaging the people around you, in convincing them that what you’re doing is important, and in showing that you care, then you are speaking in opposition to those three goals.  At best, it’s just a mixed message.  At worst, it can make people skeptical of your sincerity.
  2. It contains the word “don’t.” Research and experience show the wisdom of avoiding this word.
  3. It starts with “I.” This is the most subtle of all the points, but the phrase is often used to give permission. Make the asker the focus, not yourself.

Use great caution when frustrated.  I once witnessed a teacher who was new to a group who said this as a form of classroom management:

“Keep talking if you want.  It’s your time.  I don’t care.”  Yikes!

Take opportunities to use “behavior/outcome” statements when people ask for permission.  So, for example, you are asked “Can I leave 20 minutes early today? I need to run to the bank before it closes.”

No big deal, so you might say “I don’t care. That’s fine.  See ya.”

What if you said this instead:

“Sure. Heck, you’ve been 10 minutes early most days this week.  Thanks for asking; that’s just fine today.  See ya.”

You’ve reinforced some values there, and added pleasantries, and kept it positive.

It can be even shorter:


Use positive statements as an alternative to “I don’t care.” It will build engagement.

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