Just. ‘Just’ has always been a trigger word for me. Trivializing, judgmental, showing a lack of respect. Wow! Those are some big reactions to such a small word.
In the corporate world, ‘just’ often belittles effort and demonstrates a lack of understanding for prioritization and focus. Sure, it may JUST take an hour to do what is asked, but I may not have that hour until a week from Wednesday. When I hear someone drop ‘just’ into a sentence, my ear goes to what is being qualified – what is really being asked, what is being minimized or contextualized. Is it really as easy as is being asserted?
“It will JUST take you 10 minutes.”
“If you would JUST do this [or that]…”
“Can’t you JUST do this …?”
‘Just’ comes with bias and a particular point of view. I think one thing and I am projecting my belief onto the situation. Inevitably it leads to disappointment and frustration. You assert that it will just take just 10 minutes, so you are disappointed when I push back, can’t find the time, or can’t get the task completed. Was it really a 10 minute ask? Did I actually have 10 minutes to do the task? Was that the best use of the 10 minutes? It could be any of those scenarios or more.
Time is one thing that is completely democratized and finite. Every person – no matter where you live or how old you are or what your socio-economic state is – gets exactly the same amount of time each day. We can’t make more of it and we can’t reclaim time already spent. So, what happens when you want me to prioritize your ask? The time has to come from something else. That could be another project, but it also could be outside of my work day, time I was scheduled to be focused on family, friends, self-care. When you underestimate the time required, the effort to find that time, or the mental shift it will take to go from my current priority to another, you take away my control.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying priorities can’t shift, work that was unexpected can’t be slotted in, or that we can’t pivot and adapt. It is how the ask is presented.
“This will just take you a few minutes” makes me feel bad if I have to say no. You have made it seem so easy; no big deal. But each time I shift focus my thought process has to change and that adds time to the original and the new ask.
Alternatively, “What would it take to get this task completed” keeps the power with me. I can work with you to prioritize and provide a fair and accurate assessment for completion. I am part of the solution and can articulate the why of when and how I can complete your ask. Yes, this task should take me 10 minutes to complete, but should I delay our original priority or is someone else better suited? Is it really 10 minutes or has the actual effort been distilled in a way that is inaccurate and will hinder success? It may actually be really easy and I can get it done, and I will feel better about partnering based on reality and not assumptions.
I challenge you to catch your use of ‘just’. Are you dropping it in as an unnecessary and disrespectful qualifier? With your kids, your family, co-workers, direct reports? And how can you ask rather than assert your perspective on just how difficult, timely or complicated your request may be.
It is just that easy…