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can, will, able – important words, different perspectives

May 7, 2016

When I ask someone to get involved in a committee or take on a project, in the past I have often asked if they were both “willing” and “able”.  I think I’ve done this, in an effort to have people feel empowered to say ‘no’ to my request.  I explain to them why I ask both questions – it’s becuase I’ve always considered the idea that they are “willing” to me they are interested and keen and it sounds like something them might like.  I considered the idea of “able” to be that they actually have the time to get involved or make this commitment (this is the part when I’m giving them a chance to say ‘no’).  I’ve found many people are willing but not truly able to take on the request at this time.

Then I read the following blog post that talks about “can” and “will”.

The distance from can to will keeps getting larger.

You can connect, lead, see, speak, create, encourage, challenge and contribute.

Will you?

The confusion kicks in when we become overwhelmed by all the things we can do, but can’t find the time or the courage to actually commit and follow through.

In the face of all that choice, we often confuse can’t and won’t. One lets us off the hook, the other is a vivid reminder of our power to say yes if we choose.

This blog writer is encouraging us to action.  His focus is on the fact that if we “can”, which in this case means have the skills and abilities to do the task or get involved than we should do that.  His definition of ‘can’ is focused on a ability, my definition of ‘able’ focuses on time.  Both are important.  I could do more to help people understand that when I ask them to get involved in something, it’s because I think they have the skills to do it (aka I believe they ‘can’).  This writer could do more to help people consider the message to those who already do so much, whose skills and abilities mean they are frequently asked to get involved or whose natural tendancies (or sense of guilt) frequently lead them to action and what he calls “will”.

But maybe all this comes back to knowing your audience.  Are you talking to a person or group of people who is comfortably moving through their life or work at the status quo?  Or are you talking to a person or group of people who needs to be reminded they are already doing lots and that life is about balance?  It’s not one message for everyone. One size does not fit all.  This blog post reminded me that it’s good to read a perspective that is different from my own.

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