Phrases That Don’t Pay

PIn the marketing, branding and speaking world, we talk about the concept of creating phrases that pay – simple phrases that are so clear, rich and recognizable that they pay great dividends for the brands they are associated with. Here are a couple of examples of phrases that pay:

Just Do It (Nike)

My Pleasure (Chick-Fil-A)

You Always Have a Choice (Jeff Nischwitz)

These are phrases that pay, but there are also phrases (and questions) that most definitely DO NOT pay and which must be eliminated from our organizations and conversations.

Today, I want to focus on one phrase (actually a question) that does not pay, and I’m encouraging you to dump it from your conversations and organizations starting today. 

Do you have a minute?

This question is well-meaning (sort of), but it keeps us from achieving what we say our objectives are as leaders – effective communication, growing our people and building trust.

The question – Do you have a minute? – is one of the biggest lies in the world today, both personally and professionally. It’s the opening phrase whenever we ask another person if we can take some of their time. Yes, that’s exactly what we’re doing when we ask someone else a question – we’re taking some of their time. Asking questions is important and valuable, but we must also remember that we are asking someone else to give us some of their most precious asset – their time. And that’s why we lie when asking for their time – because we know their time is precious and we’re hoping that they will say yes (and right now).

What’s the lie? Well, how many times in your life has someone asked for a minute of your time and that’s all they really needed? How many times when you say to someone, “Do you have a minute?” is that an honest request? Come on – we all know that “Do you have a minute?” is the lie we tell others (and perhaps ourselves) so we can minimize the perceived impact on the other person (the askee) and increase the chances that they will say yes right now.

So here’s the shift – prohibit this question from your organization and dump it in your personal life. Instead, insist for yourself and others that everyone be thoughtful and honest when asking to take someone else’s precious time. If you realistically (be honest here) think that you will need thirty minutes of someone’s time, then ask them, “Do you have thirty minutes?” If it’s ten minutes, then ask for ten minutes.

In fact, I encourage you to be very precise with your time requests or else this better version of the question will quickly become a new lie (i.e. Do you have ten minutes? will replace Do you have a minute?). Yes, it will be better, but only a better lie. Instead, try, “Do you have eight minutes?” or “Do you have thirteen minutes?” It may seem odd to be so specific and perhaps impossible to be that precise, but the use of precise and atypical time helps to remind everyone to be more focused and attentive. The more specific you are, the more thoughtful you and everyone else will be in honestly assessing time demands on others.

And here is the most important step – honor your time demands. If you ask someone for thirteen minutes, then honor that request. If it appears that it will take longer than you had thoughtfully expected and requested, then check in with the other person to make sure that they have the additional time right then, using the same precision to ask as before. This process of self-accountability will show respect for the other person and their time, as well as force you to get better and better at realistically anticipating the time you are asking from another person.

Remember, you’re not borrowing someone’s time – you’re asking them to give it to you permanently. They never get it back, and that makes time a big deal. If we’re going to ask people to give us their valuable time, let’s at least give them the respect they deserve and be honest. It’s time to dump the lie of “Do you have a minute?” As soon as you do, you will immediately see a profound and positive impact in your communication, effectiveness and trust.

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