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Is there a more damning phrase than ‘I don’t care’?

There are a lot of things you can say that are more crude, rude, ugly or shocking but I’m not sure within normal social conventions there is a worse phrase than this one. You convey disinterest, a flavor of apathy, misanthropy, conversational awkwardness, abruptness, and a number of other undesirable traits. The thing that seems like a problem is how to talk about not being able to care or upon examination of one’s internal state finding that you do not in fact find a sense of caring.

Let’s take the first case, not being able to care. Few it seems to me would argue that the ability to care is unlimited. We know that our attention is finite as is our time. Given a person possessed of perfect empathy these limitations would keep that person from being able to care about everything that could be cared about. In the second case, we see a person make a genuine appraisal of their state of being about some topic and come up dry. They simply do not have a strong feeling about it. It seems hard to judge that as inferior.

In some senses, this comes down to signaling behavior. Saying that you don’t care is a strong contrary social signal at odds with accepted behavior. We are supposed to care about a long list of things and calling out that we in fact do not puts us at odds with others.

If there is no socially acceptable way of conveying this, how can there ever be a conversation about what underpins this lack of caring? How is it possible to identify and validate that not being able to care about everything is a standard human trait?

PS. For the purposes of this conversation I ignore using the phrase intentionally as a means to convey disinterest, apathy, etc. This of course is a very common reason for using it.

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You see this a fair amount in organizations. A manager has an extra hour or two come available. Apparently there isn’t enough on their own to do list or they are in avoidance. Paint the prettiest face on it and assume that this was the most important thing to focus on. What is the result? Some new initiative for their team, group, or business.

Is that problematic? On the face of it no. In a perfect situation where the team in question is planned with enough reserve time to take on additional initiatives and the initiatives are well structured and prioritized there is no problem at all.

How often do you see the perfect situation? Rarely enough for it to be remarkable. What you usually see is a team that is already fully loaded if not overloaded. There are a number of initiatives that have come and gone. Some are probably more important than the one currently under consideration.

What are the results of the ‘usual’ situation? The team sitting through another set of meetings that won’t end in success. These wind up being morale sapping since it is hard to commit to something new when there isn’t enough of a track record in success. It is also tough when you can’t see a way that there will be time to accomplish it. You know going in that the expectation is probably not going to be met.

What is a manager to do? The next time you have time available and your thoughts turn to what you should be setting forth in terms of new initiatives to accomplish ask yourself these things. Does my team have enough time to accomplish initiatives over and above base (or current) workload? If not, shouldn’t the focus be on finding that time before setting initiatives? If the team has the time, are the initiatives to be worked on well structured and prioritized? If not, shouldn’t the focus be on getting the existing initiatives organized, prioritized, planned and communicated so that the most important items are happening first? If the above conditions are all met, then it would seem you are well placed to add new initiatives.

Recently I flew Virgin America cross country. I was in the last row of the plane with a noisy kid in the row immediately in front of me. Across the aisle from me is a guy that is even taller than me. The flight attendant (I am assuming the crew chief) relocates him to the only available seat forward which also by the way allows the family with young child more space in that row. She then stopped by me and asked what she could do to make things better. I talked with her later about it, because I was interested in the policy, and she gave a brand perfect response. She indicated that they were encouraged to go for wow factor and that she knew that the situation I was in sucked. She said they almost always got backing to try to make things better in these situations. Talk about hitting all the right brand and customer notes. While she couldn’t make the yammering kid go away,she was able to at least somewhat counteract the negatives of the experience. It made a difference to me. (By the way mom and grandma, when your kid disturbs the last 10 rows of a plane for the whole flight including kicking the seats in front of her and banging on the tray table when she isn’t relentlessly whining and clearly knows you aren’t going to do anything to stop her – there is a circle in hell reserved for you)

On the other end of the spectrum, I had a call today on my cell from an 800 number, that purported to be my carrier AT&T Wireless. The automated caller requested the last four of my social to ‘avoid disruption of service’. I immediately hung up and about an hour later had time to call AT&T Wireless. The guys I spoke to looked at my account and said there was nothing that would have caused a message like that. When I gave him the number he indicated they’d been receiving a lot of complaints about that number and would I like it blocked. The CSR informed me that it was a real shame that these guys were out there doing this and damaging their name. Really AT&T Wireless? You’re a carrier and yet it seems like an okay idea to let other customers get calls that may violate security and we need to ask you to block those even after customers complain? And your big worry is damage to your name?
Following that I inquired about my data usage and he indicated I should use their app. Okay, so I download the app, dick with getting a new password, and the app apparently isn’t operational or at least isn’t operational ‘right now’ whatever that means.