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

Today I’m pleased to feature a guest blogger and fellow productivity consultant, Matthew Cornell.  He has interviewed me in the past and featured me on his blog.  I’ve been following his good work and musings on productivity and wholeheartedly recommend you subscribe to his feed.

by Matthew Cornell: Three Indecisiveness Phrases:

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:

It’s going to dog you until it’s resolved.

You’re misleading someone and wasting their time; it’s disrespectful.

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.”



  1. Thanks very much for sharing my article, Laura. Your blog is one of my top 10 for high quality practical content that’s well-written and concise. Ditto for your newsletter. I continue to heartily recommend both.

    Thanks again,


  2. Hi Laura,

    This is some great information. It’s amazing of how many times we try to brush people off, just because we are so busy with our own work.

    It would really help if we tried a little more to listen to the other person. Then they would help you out in the future, because of this small good deed.


    Richard Rinyai
    The Professional Assistant


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