Before I even hit kindergarten, I understood there were three possible answers to any request I made of my parents — “yes,” “no,” and “we’ll see,” which pretty much meant “no.”
I learned a similar lesson when I started working. My boss could say “yes,” “no” or “Let me think about it,” which meant… well, I really never knew. Sometimes that phrase felt like a legitimate request for more time to digest my idea or request. More often, however, I heard “Let me think about it” as evidence the boss wasn’t engaged in the conversation and needed a non-committal way out of the exchange.
I suspect many leaders do indeed use “Let me think about it” as a way to dodge a more protracted conversation and warehouse the subject matter until, heaven forbid, the team member brings it up again. This is unfortunate.
As leaders, we should always say what we mean and mean what we say. Doing otherwise can corrode our ability to lead by undermining the team’s faith in everything from the goals we set to our feedback (positive or negative) on their performance.
So, how about joining me in this resolution? When we tell a colleague “Let me think about it,” we will actually put some thought into the request and set a firm intention to get back to that person with a genuinely thoughtful response. Yes, this requires some work. It means actively hearing what our co-worker is saying and making time to view the pros and cons of the idea or request through the lens of our education, training, and experience. But the payoff is more than worth all the effort.
Providing team members with timely thoughtful feedback on their input will better position us as engaged, decisive authentic leaders; leaders who hear, see and respects our team members and peers. It doesn’t matter whether our response is supportive of the initial idea or request. What matters is that we took the conversation seriously enough to do more than just file it away somewhere in the back of our mind, never again to be seen.
I realize that for many leaders the most challenging part of this process might be staying present throughout the pitches, proposals, and presentations that sometimes come at us all day long. We all have a lot going on; our brains are running like blenders, and yet everyone with whom we meet wants an answer, preferably now, please. On those days, a vague “Let me think about it” can be justified as a survival tool.
But don’t fall into that trap. Find a way to maintain your focus and give every interaction the respect it deserves. Practicing mindfulness helps me stay present in the workplace (and at home). I’ve learned that slowing down my thoughts and focusing on one task at a time helps me stay in the moment and make me more productive. When I feel my focus slipping and my mind running off in a hundred directions, I take a few minutes to just breath and collect myself. It’s a huge difference-maker for me.
Give it a try, maybe?
And don’t you dare say you’ll think about it.
Unless you’re going to, you know, really think about it.