“Yes, you will.”
These are the words on my front door that accompany me every time I leave home. I’ve been asked before why I chose “will” as opposed to “can.” Because for me “will” reinforces a certainty as opposed to “can” which suggests a possibility. That reasoning was always good enough for me but as I’ve been studying a new language lately it’s given me occasion to think about the more precise meanings of those words.
Okay, this is about to go #GrammarGeek on you but bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this…
The root of the verb “can” is “to be able.” That you can–are able–to do something does not guarantee that you will. This is also the reason why you want to punch those annoying people in the throat who stare blankly at your, “Can I?”, until you ask, “May I?”
“Will” is an auxiliary verb that informs us of a future tense of the verb it accompanies. In the case of “Yes, you will,” “will” accompanies an implied “to do” as in, “Yes, you will (do it).” Of course, in English, there is another meaning for “will” which could be used as a polite request but we won’t get into that right now.
Alright, so what’s up with the boring grammar lesson? It’s this…language exists for us to express our meaning and intent. Words have power and I placed these words on my door so that each time I leave home I am placed in a mindful state for my intentions for the day. It is precisely this mindful state and confidence of certainty that have allowed me to have amazing experiences conventional wisdom would have said were improbable.
Carefully selecting my words in different scenarios has shaped dramatically different outcomes for me. You’ve encountered this before in your personal or professional life…you are talking with a particularly difficult person who can’t seem to open their mind to the possibility of things. These are the people who are the first to tell you why something can’t work, why you shouldn’t do something, or what restrictions and boundaries prevent something from happening. Your discussion gets bogged down in the “can’ts” and never find their way to solutions. Sound familiar?
More than likely, those conversations involved phrases like “can we” or “could we” or maybe even “should we.” You might have asked, “Could you get those reports to me by 9 a.m.?” Nope. I’ve got too much to do. I’ve got other things taking priority. Instead, what if you asked, “What would it take to get those reports first thing in the morning?” If I finish this other report you asked for first. If I skipped that useless status meeting this afternoon. Great. This report is more important than the other one so put that one on hold. I can cover for you in that meeting. Thanks. I will get it to you first thing. It’s the use of the phrase “what would” (or “how would”) that automatically suggests to the person you’re speaking to that there is a solution, so now let’s figure it out together.
Consider this the next time you need to ask for a day off or a raise. For most businesses these days, “Can I have a raise?” invites explanations of why you can’t. We’re not doing so well. The economy is tough. Sales are down. I just had to let people go and you’re asking for a raise? Instead, if you were to ask your boss, “What would I need to do to get a raise?” or “What would it take for me to get a raise?” it opens up the discussion for solutions. If we improve our numbers this quarter. If you close that deal. If we find a way to reduce margins. It might not be easy but it’s better than “no,” right? You can take actions on “ifs” but the “nots” will stop you dead in your tracks.
In addition to using the word “will” in place of “can” for yourself, try seeing what effect it has as you interact with others. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how differently it plays out. That’s “will” power.
Okay, I have to admit, that last bit was a bit forced (and super cheesy). But give me a break, I just dropped some knowledge on you. They can’t all be gems (nor will they).