Key 53. Don’t be a “Maybe’.

When I was a young fellow I visited Speakers’ Corner. An old chap was talking about God but no-one was nearby to listen. (I learned later it’s a common tactic: speak to the air and hope a passer-by catches a few words and stops to listen.)

I went to him and expressed my regrets that he didn’t have listeners. He turned to me and said firmly, ‘Hey buddy! That’s not your concern. I’ll worry about me, and you worry about you!’

In other words, he had taken responsibility for his situation. He had chosen to stand on his step-ladder and speak, and if he couldn’t get listeners that was his problem and he would deal with it. He didn’t need my sympathy. I could butt out.

He was right.

If he had fallen and hurt himself, my concern would be justified. But he had chosen his situation and I, by showing concern, had treated him as though he were a sad soul who needed assistance or pity.

It was a valuable lesson.

When I speak at Speakers’ Corner I can’t talk to the air like that chap did. I have other strategies for getting my first listener. Sometimes I ask a passer-by, ‘What question do you have for Mr Bashful?’ I often get the response, ‘I have no question now. I might come back later.’


The person says they might come back later because they feel sorry for me. They’re trying to soften the blow of their rejection.


If the person had said simply, ‘I have no question,’that would be fine. But by adding, ‘I might come back later,‘they’re trying to spare my feelings. They’re trying to avoid dashing my spirit. They’re making the same mistake I made when I spoke to that religious chap years ago.

Salespeople know what I am talking about. They often hear the words, ‘I’ll come back later.’ They know the person wants to get away but doesn’t have the courage to leave cleanly. They see those people as weak.

‘Maybe later’is a feeble, wishy-washy response. If you use the expression, get rid of it. It’s disingenuous and both parties know it. Never again say to someone,‘Maybe later’,even if you do intend to return. Simply say, ‘No,’  or‘No, thank you.’  That’s honest and respectful. If you do come back later it’s a pleasant surprise for the salesperson. Or me.

Plus, by giving a simple, honest and unqualified refusal you strengthen the connection you have with people. Why? Because instead of feeding them lame fibs, you are being honest with them. And, you’re not seeing them as sad souls who need their feelings protected, you’re seeing them as equals.

Example 1.

You are in a clothing store and have just tried on a jacket. You decide it doesn’t interest you. Nor does anything else in the shop.
Salesperson: ‘How do you like the jacket?’

You: ‘Maybe, but I’d like to look elsewhere before I make a decision.’ Incorrect. That’s a fib.
You: ‘I’d like to look elsewhere before I make a decision.’ Incorrect. Another fib.
You: ‘I might come back later.’ Big fib.
You: ‘I won’t buy it, but thank you for your assistance.’ Correct. (Plus, you don’t have to give a reason.)

Example 2.

You come to another clothing store and find a jacket you like. But you want to look at jackets in other shops before you make a decision.
Salesperson: ‘How do you like the jacket?’

You: ‘I like it, but I’d like to look elsewhere before I make a decision. I’ll come back later.’ Incorrect, because you don’t know for sure you will be coming back later.
You: ‘I like it, but I’d like to look elsewhere before I make a decision. I might come back later.’  That’s wishy-washy and weak, and anyway, the salesperson can figure out that you might come back later.
You: ‘I like it, but I will be looking elsewhere before I make a decision.’ Correct, because it’s the truth. (Although you don’t have to give a reason for not buying it now, in this instance it’s understandable and generous to explain why. To say you like the jacket and leave without buying it, and without giving an explanation, might prompt consternation.)

Examples like these might seem trivial. However, the changes are subtle but profound. It’s the difference between being passive and active. It’s about feeling that you’re driving your life, not being passively driven.

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