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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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