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Two Words to Remove from Your Business Vocabulary: Part 2



Now that you have conquered busy, consider getting rid of the word can’t. While not as pervasive as “busy,” the limiting potential of ‘can’t’ makes it just as important to eliminate.

“Can’t” is an auxiliary verb, which means it’s used in forming the moods and voices of other verbs. It’s inherently negative, so by saying you “can’t” do something, you are casting doubt on your abilities and setting an adverse tone for whatever comes next:

  • I can’t write a good customer-facing message.
  • I can’t complete this sell sheet.
  • We can’t take on this project; our schedule is full.

If a client or colleague brings you a complicated problem and your first reaction is “I can’t do that”, it’s unlikely they will contact you again next time they need assistance. Instead, when you’re formulating a reply in your head and it includes “can’t”, try to recognize it as a warning flag. Pause - even for a split second – to avoid answering in an unintentionally negative way.

Using the same examples as above, reframe them to identify your real challenge and remove “can’t:”

  • I am having trouble landing the right message. Will you please block some time for us to talk it through and brainstorm?
  • I need more source material in order to make this tool effective. Is there a subject matter expert who will engage with me to share some insight?
  • This week is booked, but we have availability for a meeting next Tuesday. Since that shortens the timeline, will you please send materials in advance so we can get up to speed before we meet?

Notice that the re-framed replies include proactive requests in addition to identifying the barrier. This lets you better communicate the steps or resources you need in order to fully overcome the ‘can’t’ obstacle.

“Sometimes we think we can’t do something because the whole idea of it seems too large. We skip the small steps in our head and only focus on the end. Before you say you can’t do something, rewind and slow down a little bit. Focus on what the first step is, then the next. Take it a step at a time, and before you know it you will have done something you previously thought you couldn’t do.”

“Don’t Say It: How to Get ‘Can’t’ Out of Your Vocabulary”  Paul Jun

Why do I think it’s important to get rid of busy and can’t? Because they create roadblocks. As consultants, we are tasked with solving problems and opening doors for our clients, which starts from having the right mindset. Being able to approach a complex task with an open mind, free of obstacles, increases the likelihood of a successful outcome. Freeing your communication from negativity also creates opportunity for more meaningful connections with those around you.

As you focus on removing these two words from your business vocabulary, what could happen if you practice the same exercise outside of work?
Erin Farrell

Erin Farrell

Erin is an experienced business operations professional with 10+ years in sales, marketing, account management, and go-to-market execution. She is adept at navigating complicated operational infrastructure and implementing the business strategies required to make impactful organizational change. As a relationship-oriented leader, Erin excels in developing talent. Her project teams at The Spur Group have driven transformation through stakeholder alignment and strong change management, with special expertise in business development and process design.