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The absolute trap: How the word “never” is holding you back

Never. It’s a simple word that packs a remarkably powerful punch. And if you regularly use this word (or some iteration thereof) throughout the normal course of your workday, you could – potentially – be sabotaging both you and your colleagues without so much as a second thought. It’s time to stop and take notice. In its simplest form, the word never means: at no time, not at all, absolutely not, to no extent or degree. In other words, it’s an absolute or superlative word meaning: not ever. If that weren’t already enough, the related idiom – never mind – is equally as telling (and discouraging). It means don't bother or don't concern yourself. So, what’s the point? Day in and day out, I think many of us – myself included – stand in the way of our own success, and not just personally. I mean for our members, vendors and partners, as well. We’re literally not realizing our (and their) fullest potential because of the barriers we’re so quick to put up around us. And, worldwide, this is resulting in countless missed opportunities to both create and develop superior products and services.

  • “We never allow presenters to…”
  • “We never have the money to…”
  • “We never have the support of our board to…”
  • “We never permit vendors to…”
  • “We never have the time to…”

Do any of these sound familiar? If not, I’m sure you could come up with a laundry list of your own “never” statements you’ve either used or heard within the last month. So, what’s standing in our way? Do we just not want to commit to the effort, are we afraid of rejection, are we afraid of the unknown, are we intimidated by the key players, do we not want to expose our weaknesses, or perhaps it’s just easier to do nothing at all. Whatever the reason, enough is enough. Call it a rule, a policy, a culture or “the way we’ve always done it.” Whatever it is, it’s a limitation. It’s a limitation preventing you, your department, your organization and your industry from achieving more. And breaking through this barrier is an important part of the innovation process. I certainly don’t mean to imply that we should all become extreme risk takers, shamelessly buck the system at every chance we get or eliminate the word “never” from our vocabulary. That would somehow imply that the other extreme – always – is the simple answer to life’s challenges. Quite the contrary. Adopting a yes-man attitude would result in a similar trap with equally unfavorable consequences. Rather, the goal is to find a happy medium – both at work and at home – where you’re able to develop and adhere to basic guidelines that govern work flow and processes, but that also allow for and encourage both innovation and deviance from the norm. And it starts with questioning the use of any absolute or superlative word such as “always” or “never.” What would happen if:

  • You allowed presenters to…
  • You either shifted resources or raised the money to…
  • You gained the trust and support of the board to…
  • You encouraged your vendors to…
  • You found time to…

Wouldn’t the future be brighter? So, my question to you is this: How often do you and your colleagues use the word “never” or other similar absolute/superlative words throughout the course of the workweek? How can you more intentionally draw awareness to these words and play devil’s advocate when they show up in conversation? What outcomes or successes have you, your team or your organization realized as a result of using the words “never” or “always” less frequently in your workplace?

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