Ever wondered why when asking someone if they can do something for us, the question opens up a “can of worms”?
The word “can”, generally refers to *a metallic container, **the ability to do something or ***to have the permission to do something, as an example:
*The people were squeezed into the arena “like sardines in a can”.
** I can speak English which helps me a lot in international meetings.
***He can attend that SALT Presentation Skills seminar next month!
And yet can, can be used so incorrectly at times.
Scenario: It is 4.50pm, the boss walks in and asks: “Can you please proofread, format and correct my power point presentation for my 8am meeting tomorrow?”
Are you able to? Yes.
Do you want to? No, not really!
It can lead to resistance and resentment
Scenario: Mother asks child doing something on computer “Can you take out the garbage?” Most of us know the reactions, we were children too.
Question: “Can you swim?” Answer: “Yes” or “No” – simple, straight forward, no emotion.
So what’s with the first two scenarios?
Well, it’s all the “stuff” around the words (relationship, emotions, tone of voice, personal perceptions and beliefs, culture, language levels etc) that impact the meaning and the willingness to resist or accept the communication.
Now try the first two questions starting with “will”. See what happens.
It sounds softer – more pleasing to the ear. Positive outcome.
It transfers accountability even if the action is done later, the requested action will happen. If not there are other issues which need to be resolved.
Possible answer to 1st scenario: “I am on my way home but will a) check it at home or b) come in earlier and have it ready for you tomorrow morning”. Positive outcome.
Possible answer to 2nd scenario: “I will do it as soon as I have finished this XYZ”. Positive outcome. Done deal. Everyone satisfied.
In some of my work such as mediation and supporting foreign delegates in international workshops and meetings I frequently experience the sometimes negative and confusing impact basic words have on given situations and just the other day I experienced this myself so thought it important to share the importance (and power) of words. Choose them carefully!
This is such a beautiful example!I wish you a marvellous March and I look forward to sharing some more linguistic magic with you! Come and learn more about words in a seminar!
PS 1: Consider the impact of “I think…” too. E.g. “I think you definitely deserve that promotion!” vs. “ You definitely deserve that promotion” or
“I think she is the best person for the job” vs. “She is the best person for the job”. Choose your words. You can!