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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 January 6, 2019

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

No one wants to suffer. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.

People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.

But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.

If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared at early stages.

Without the feeling of pain, people won’t be aware of dangerous situations—what should or shouldn’t do for survival.

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Pain Is Our Guardian

Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable, that the child is certain never to repeat that action.

In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.[1]

Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.

While the cliche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadnesses— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on.

Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently. But it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example, anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. Especially the first breakup. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.

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No Pain, No Happiness

You only know happiness when you have known pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.

In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all. Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy

In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.[2]

This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.

Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering

Pain is inevitable, embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfectionism; and perfectionism guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.

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This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.

Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.

Allow Room for the Inevitable

Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.

Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurting. There’s a saying,

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”

Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.

The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way. How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?

While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future. You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).

Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse

Pain does not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.

To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. For it is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future or at least cope a little more easily.

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You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things. The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then take a deep breath and start learning from that pain. You’ve got this!

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1]University of Calgary: Why is Pain Important?
[2]Greater Good Magazine: The Importance of Pain

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