Saying it’s okay when it’s really not

Stop me if any of these sound familiar:

Scenario 1:
Work connection cancels / reschedules a meeting on you for the third time in the row.
You: “All good!”

Scenario 2:
Friend outright stands you up for dinner; says they got caught up in work and their cell phone battery died.
You: “No worries.”

Scenario 3:
Someone apologizes for not acknowledging something that you did in a small group meeting.
You: “It’s okay!”

But…is it really okay? I mean, let’s sit with this for a minute.

Isn’t kind of shitty if someone reschedules your meetings three times in a row? Or for a friend to be at work and not think to even email you and give you a heads up that they might not make a prior dinner engagement?

And if these things really do bother you, wouldn’t it be better to just call that out?

“Hey, thanks for letting me know. I’m disappointed to hear we need to reschedule again, as this is the third time this has happened.”

Maybe that’s all that needs to be said in that first reply. Maybe that’s enough.

I have a bad habit of absorbing any sign of annoyance by immediately dismissing moments like this when they happen around me. And while I’m sure this wins me easygoing / credibility points among my friends, it’s also a missed opportunity to call out moments that might help other people learn what sets you off.

I’m not suggesting that we should never cut people any slack. Don’t get me wrong: Things come up. I’ve certainly rescheduled my fair share of meetings this year alone.

But my point is that, if it’s *not* okay — or at least, if that’s not your immediate reaction — don’t pretend that it is. In other words: It’s okay for it to not be okay. At least, right at that moment.

Of course, it’s hard to change a gut reaction / instinctive behavior. But even super small micro-behaviors — like removing the word “just” from your emails can have compounding effects over time. While one incident of “I’m just following up…” won’t destroy your career, over time, these little passive tags add up. It may make it seem as though you’re always second-guessing yourself, that you might not exude the confidence you deserve to project in the job that you have.

What might it say or shows to others if you regularly acquiesce that something is okay (even if it’s not)? That you’re a pushover? That you don’t actually care about the other person enough to show disappointment? That you’re not invested enough in your own work to call out when it was overlooked?

Maybe there’s more. But none of these things seem like great perception vibes to me. So at least for now, for me, I’ve decided on some small fix — just don’t say, “It’s okay.” At least, not right away. Maybe I can say, “That’s too bad,” or “I’m sorry to hear that.” And of course, I’ll still reschedule the meeting, find another time, get over whatever little moment that passed.

But at least I won’t let you get away with thinking I didn’t care about it. And I think that’s important.

Originally published at Dry Erase.

GM @USV, alum of @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC

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