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The Favorite Word of Average People: “Okay”

The Favorite Word of Average People: “Okay”

I remember learning the word, “okay,” as a child and marveling at its versatility. It has such a broad meaning that you can use it in many contexts, and as a kid working to communicate with a limited vocabulary, being able to say “okay” carried me through all sorts of scenarios.

As I’ve gotten older, my feelings about the word have changed. Where saying “okay” used to give me freedom, now it holds me back. I’ve learned that in most cases, it’s not okay to say, “OK.”

Okay has become a toxic cop out

Sure, you can say “ok” in almost any situation. For example:

  • “How was the article?” “It’s okay.”
  • “How was that candidate?” “She was okay.”
  • “How’s your life?” “It’s okay.”

Saying that something is okay doesn’t tell us much about it. Usually it means that something is satisfactory, but it’s not especially good. It’s a way to avoid conflict by failing to offer meaningful feedback. It allows us to avoid committing to authentic communication.

When we say something is okay, we stop thinking

Not only does referring to something as okay keep us from providing a valuable assessment of the thing in question, but it keeps us from thinking about how to make that thing better.

Instead of trouble shooting and finding solutions, we check the “okay” box and move on to more interesting pursuits. When someone comes to us looking for feedback, telling them that something is okay doesn’t give them any idea about how to improve.

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Labelling everything as “okay” makes you boring

Something that is just okay needs more work. People who label things in this manner are providing a lazy answer. Okay is a boring answer to a host of interesting questions, and it’s up to you to do better.

Communication is a two-way street. A person who asks for your honest opinion about a subject doesn’t want to hear that something is okay. You might as well say your opinion on all things is, “meh,” because you’re just that uninspiring.

“Okay” connotes a lack of ideas or an unwillingness to contribute something more substantial to the conversation. If everything is just okay all the time, the people who talk to you will grow bored. They’d get more feedback talking to the wall. You’ve made it their sole responsibility to keep the conversation afloat, which can be tiresome.

Saying “okay” too often makes people feel that you’re too agreeable

You can be easy to work with and disagree with people sometimes. When an idea is taking shape, you want all kinds of feedback and some push-back so that you can create something excellent. A collaborator who says that something is okay is simply saying that they don’t have a strong opposition to the idea. They may not love it, but it’s not worthwhile enough to improve.

You may think that you’re being nice when you label things as okay, but you’re not doing anyone any favors. “Okay” can be downright dishonest if you don’t like an idea that much, but at the very least, it is not helpful. A person who comes to you with an idea would love new insights or constructive feedback. It already takes so much to ask for feedback. Don’t deprive someone who values your opinion of the perspective that you could offer.

Maybe you are nervous that you’ll offend someone. Giving actual feedback may feel risky, but when someone asks for it, honesty is the best policy. When you make a non-committal remark like, “It’s okay,” you’ve revealed your overly cautious mindset.

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Give concrete feedback instead when you want to say “okay”

“Okay” isn’t helping your communication skills. Erase it from your vocabulary, and work on offering your true opinion. It may take some practice to feel good about this new way of expressing yourself, but your friends and colleagues will appreciate your honesty. For example:

“How’s the article?”

“The ideas in this article are average. Try to use more exciting subheadings and provide some attention-grabbing visual elements so that readers will want to keep reading it.”

“How’s the candidate?”

“She passed our initial evaluation, and her philosophy aligns with our core values, but I’m not sure if she will be able to keep up in our fast-paced environment. It took her longer than expected to complete her test.”

For both of those questions, “OK” would have been way too vague to be helpful. You’ll notice that in both examples, the respondent not only took a stance, but he or she also used additional information to support the opinion.

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You can say something is OK if you offer more details

Good communication requires that you include specific details when you offer your opinion. If you do end up saying that something is okay, be sure to add on to the response. It doesn’t have to be some great insight, but mentioning something can start a conversation that allows you and the other person to form a deeper connection.

“How did you like my short story?”

“It was ok. I liked the overall concept, but there were a few things I didn’t understand.”

An exchange like this could open up a conversation about how to improve the author’s work. In this case, the author trusted that the other person would give honest feedback. The conversation could continue with, “What would it take to make this outstanding? What could be done to make it better?” These additional details show the person that you are basing your opinion on your best judgement rather than issuing a default response.

Don’t accept “okay” from yourself either

If saying “okay” isn’t a good enough response to someone else’s question, it shouldn’t be the go-to answer you give to yourself either. Saying that you or something in your life is okay means that you feel adequate about it, but it doesn’t demonstrate any motivation or potential for a major breakthrough.

People are more likely to tell themselves that they’re doing okay when they’re facing big challenges or pursuing difficult goals. Sometimes this defense mechanism can make you feel better about the situation when things are overwhelming, but saying that a situation is okay doesn’t allow you to make changes or push through the task. “It’s okay,” quickly turns into, “I’ll worry about it tomorrow.” It’s a real drain on motivation.

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Remember that successful people don’t go through their lives okaying every challenge that comes their way. They tackle these things head-on and become stronger in the process. They doggedly pursue their dreams until they achieve them.

Chris Gardner wouldn’t take “okay” for an answer

You may remember his story from the film Pursuit of Happyness, but in case you don’t know it, it is a story about never giving up. Gardner started out selling medical supplies, but that didn’t pay the bills. He wanted to become a stockbroker, but he didn’t have the necessary training or social connections to get his foot in the door.[1]

Things got worse before they got better, and pretty soon, Gardner was a homeless single dad who was barely getting by. Through his resourcefulness, he was able to land a spot in a training program that would ultimately lead him to becoming a stock broker. Today Gardner’s net worth is $60 million, but it wouldn’t have been possible if he had merely accepted having doors slammed in his face.

Say “okay” when you don’t care

“Okay,” is a fine response when you don’t care about something. Use it when you are trying to save time, or when you don’t want to engage in discussion.

  • “What do you think about that guy’s shirt?” “It’s okay.”
  • “I may be 2 minutes late to the meeting because I have another meeting right before that.” “It’s okay.”
  • “How do you feel about the remake of that movie?” “It’s okay.”

In these cases, the person doesn’t need feedback, and you don’t have much interest in continuing the conversation.

But for things that you do care, remember it’s okay to say something besides “OK”. You are capable of giving useful feedback and having opinions. It’s our ability to grow when we work together that leads to innovation. Don’t hide your greatness behind an answer as simplistic as “okay.”

Reference

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Last Updated on May 7, 2019

How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

How to Detect a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Work in any competitive field long enough, and you’re bound to run into a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s a powerful image. A shepherd watches over his flock to protect them from harm. He’d chase away any predator that tried to make its way into the flock. A clever wolf wearing the skin of a sheep as a disguise can sneak by the vigilant shepherd and get into the herd undetected.

The story isn’t just a colorful description–it’s a warning to all of us to beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing. They may seem innocent, but they have ulterior motives. They’ll use different tactics to camouflage their intentions.

The person who is kind to you, but undercuts you when you aren’t around is a wolf in disguise. A wolf in sheep’s clothing might pick your brain for ideas and then pass them off as their own to get a promotion. They’re always looking out for themselves at the expense of everyone around them.

Wearing a Disguise Has Its Advantages

People don’t go out of their way to manipulate others unless they’re getting something out of it. Hiding their intentions gives wolves the chance to manipulate other people to advance their own agenda. They know that what they’re trying to do wouldn’t be popular, or it might cause struggle if they presented themselves honestly.

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    They’ll be able to do what they want with less interference if they put on an act. By the time people figure out their true motives, the wolf has what it wants.

    Signs That Someone Is a Wolf in Disguise

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        1. They live to take power instead of empowering others. A wolf uses people as stepping stones to get the things that they want. They don’t care what happens to anyone else.[1] A wolf at work might make you look bad during a presentation to make themselves look amazing in front of the boss.
        2. Wolves seem sweet on the outside, but they’ll show you their teeth. If wolves revealed their true identity, people wouldn’t associate with them. They develop a friendly or kind persona, but they can’t keep up the act 24/7. Eventually, they’ll reveal their aggressive tendencies. A wealthy person who likes to break the law may make sizable charitable donations to convince people that they are kind and thoughtful. These donations largely keep them out of trouble, but if someone calls them out, they destroy that person’s reputation to stifle the criticism.
        3. They manipulate through emotions to get what they want. Wolves know that they can get ahead by appealing to your emotions. They find out what you want and need, and they give you just enough to keep you quiet and compliant. Imagine that your boss is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and you want to ask for a vacation. She might try to play on your guilt and feelings of insecurity to get you to skip vacation or take fewer days off.
        4. A wolf will charm you first. Wolves are experts at manipulating the people around them. They appear interested in whatever you’re doing, and you’ll get the impression that they care. After they get you where they want you, they do just enough to keep you on the hook. This is the coworker who may start out being your friend, but they end up dumping responsibility onto you. When they see that you are growing frustrated, they’ll surprise you with something to charm you some more. Then, they’ll continue to do whatever they want.
        5. Their stories are full of holes.  Calling a wolf out is the surest way to make them squirm. When this person tries to come up with a story, it won’t make much sense because they are improvising.[2] The classic example of this is the significant other that you suspect has cheated on you. When you ask them why they came home so late, they’ll either become upset with you, or they’ll make up a weak explanation.

        How to Spot a Wolf

          Know What’s Real So You Can Spot the Phony

          Do some homework so that you have as much of the story as possible before you work with them. Research how they respond in certain situations, or give them hypothetical problems to see how they respond.

          A job applicant might tell you that she’s always positive and thinks of herself as a team-player. That’s what every employer wants to hear. During the interview you ask applicants to work in groups to solve a problem to see how they handle the situation. The applicant “positive team-player” is bossy and negative. You’ve spotted the wolf.

          A wolf will tell you something that ultimately benefits them. Gather evidence that proves or disproves their position, and see what happens. Chances are, when you choose the side that supports their agenda, they’ll act like your best friend. If you disagree, they’ll become aggressive.

          Spotting a potential wolf–especially if you are one of the sheep–can present you with some challenges. If your gut tells you that a wolf is lurking among all the other sheep, pay attention, and make sure you take the next step.

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          Ask Questions, the More the Better

          There’s nothing wrong with asking questions to uncover the truth. The safety of everyone in your group is at risk. Since wolves often make up stories, you may be able to call them out when their tales lack details.

          When they state an opinion, ask “Why do you think that?” or “How do you know it’s like that?” They’ll have trouble coming up with enough information to pull off the lie.

          Since wolves are always pretending to be something they aren’t, they don’t usually have a clearly thought-out reason for what they say. In a debate, they won’t understand the root of an issue.

          They may also tell you what they think you want to hear, but when pressed for more information, they won’t have anything to add. Their knowledge is superficial. No matter how much you try to encourage discussion, they will not be able to carry on a conversation about the subject.

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          Wolves Are Everywhere

          As much as we want to believe that everyone has the best intentions, it isn’t always the case. Some people only do things to benefit themselves, and they don’t care who they hurt in the process.

          Wolves in sheep’s clothing can be found in almost every setting. You can’t get rid of them, but if you can spot them, you can avoid falling into their traps.

          Reference

          [1] Association of Biblical Counselors: Three Ways to Spot a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
          [2] Power of Positivity: Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing

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