November 4, 2015

No More Maybe – Commit!

In my firm’s Denver office, most of us travel four days a week to our clients. We are then are given the option to either work from home or come into the local office on Fridays… and I think you can guess which option is most popular ūüôā So as the connectivity chair for the Rockies region,¬†it’s a bit of an uphill battle trying to get organize events and incent people to attend.

Today, I sent out an invite for a lunch prior to a mandatory all-hands meeting.¬†We’ve recently switched from Lotus Notes to Gmail (hallelujah!), and I’m still getting used to all the functionality. In general, Gmail blows Lotus Notes out of the water. But when I went to send the calendar invite today, I realized that there is one thing that really sucks about Gmail: the response options for a meeting request. Specifically, you can’t tweak them and force people to pick “yes” or “no”; Gmail always includes “maybe” as an option.

Just today, Gmail announced a “smart replies” feature for their Inbox app. If they can develop their software to lazily write a response on your behalf, surely they could write a little bit of code allowing meeting organizers to eliminate¬†the spineless “maybe” replies?

I do understand the intent around “maybe.” For example, I am always a “maybe” for events that take place on a Thursday night, since I’m at the mercy of the weather and the airlines to get me home on time rather than late. But in my opinion, “maybe” gets thrown around a bit too much. The problem isn’t so much Gmail as it is our society’s collective FOMO (fear of missing out) and unwillingness to commit to anything.

Image source: Some Ecards.

FOMO has been documented all over the place as a hallmark of¬†the millennial generation. Hey, remember when we only had landline phones, all plans had to be made well in advance, and you¬†couldn’t¬†be late or you’d never find the people you were meeting?¬†With cell phones ever in hand, there’s no need to commit in advance – we can make plans at the very last second and arrive whenever the heck we want to. Besides, why commit now when something better might come along? We’ve become a society who fears commitment¬†– and while a healthy dose of spontaneity is great, there comes a point at which¬†our lack of commitment keeps us from truly enjoying ourselves and getting the most out of life.


Of course,¬†one of the real culprits behind our fear of commitment is our fear of disappointing others. As¬†Adam pointed out, “I respond ‘maybe’ when my¬†answer is ‘no’ but I don’t want them to feel bad.” I, for one, am definitely a people pleaser, and find it really hard to tell others no. But 100 replies of “maybe” don’t¬†help me plan an event, and it also doesn’t make my friends feel any better when I reply “maybe” to their happy hour¬†invitations and then don’t show up.

A¬†quick search turned up this article on seven ways to handle FOMO¬†– and it has some good tips. Specifically, I liked the first two: don’t overcommit (a tough one for me), and don’t second guess your decisions after you make them. Sure, I can’t know now what I’ll want to do next Friday, but I’ve lived long enough that I ought to be able to make a pretty good guess. (Here’s a hint: most work-free nights I like to go to bed by 9pm, so it’s dumb for me to yes to 8pm plans.) And as far as second guessing goes, there have been many nights where I’ve dragged myself to something I had previously agreed to but now didn’t want to attend, and was¬†so glad that I did.¬†Sometimes, planning-you knows better than in-the-moment-you! (This is especially true when it comes to diet and exercise.)

So even if Gmail won’t eliminate the “maybe”, I’m going to try doing so myself. I’m not going to start being rude, but if someone invites me to something I don’t want to or can’t attend, I’m going to just say no. And if I’ve RSVPed yes to something? I’m sticking to it.


6 thoughts on “No More Maybe – Commit!”

  1. It takes awhile to kick in, but culturally you can get people to be more accurate and honor their RSVPs by sending a follow-up a week or so before that says “for headcount management, please update your Maybe to Yes/No by xx/xx/2015” and THEN any no-shows get an email from the Mg Partner’s mailbox (can be handled by assistant) – or You if that’s not a viable outcome – asking why they didn’t attend and reminding them that no-shows cost the firm money. The second piece is important b/c once people start to realize that their no-show is noted and they are more thoughtful to how they RSVP over time.

    Two good books that have lots of ideas and suggestions on these kind of influence techniques are:
    (1) “The Small Big: Small Changes that Spark Big Influence” by Steve J Martin, Noah Goldstein, and Robert Cialdini
    (2) “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive” by Robert Cialdini & Noah Goldstein

    both of which are action-oriented follow-ups based on Cialdini’s famous book Influence.

    1. In the office, we’ve tried those solutions (and others) and it hasn’t yet worked. In personal life, though, how do you encourage people to commit?

  2. I feel like just about everything blows lotus notes out of the water!!

    I’m totally guilty of the maybe. Like you said, my midwest nice attitude uses it a lot as a cop-out to telling people no. I think we all could use a bit more decisiveness in our lives.

  3. What about eliminating option choices?

    Not eliminating specific actions people can do, but only including the options that we want (i.e. eliminating the no and maybe options)? For awhile now I have been a fan of ‘inaction’ as a valid decision. Help/enable a person towards the positive choice (at least in terms of the organizer), and steer them away from the negative choices by not explicitly offering them. It is basic psychology that by asking someone not to think of something we thereby require them to think of it. If we don’t offer the choice, then perhaps people will be less inclined to say no or maybe. Or, in the worst case, have to be more conscious of their decision.

    1. This is somewhat similar to how companies have you opt out of a 401k rather than opt in, yes?

      I think it can be tricky in a lot of areas to force people to opt in, though. For example, if I were hosting a dinner party and told people to RSVP with regrets only, I would expect a lot of empty plates around table and disappointment on my part.

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