How to Respond to "I Can't"

When people say "I Can't" it's generally because they're panicking. That panic might be about workload or about level of expertise. Or about confidence. Most team leaders and managers are stumped when their team says "I Can't" to a request or a challenge. And this means that the conversation is left paused in an unsatisfactory way. As a leader it's really important that you know how to respond to such a statement in a way that builds and develops your team or yourself of course. If we never attempted what we thought we couldn't do we would never widen our skill set or increase the size of our comfort zone.

How to Respond to "I Can't"

In this video I'm going to tell you a great way to respond to an "I can't" response either from yourself or from one of your team around you. When people say "I can't" it's because they are responding from their emotional brain which is making them panic at the thought of something.

By the end of this video you will have a coaching response to anyone who makes that response to you including yourself.

When people say "I can't" it's generally because they're panicking. That panic might be about workload or about level of expertise. Or about confidence. Most team leaders and managers are stumped when their team says "I can't" to a request or a challenge. And this means that the conversation is left paused in an unsatisfactory way. As a leader it's really important that you know how to respond to such a statement in a way that builds and develops your team or yourself of course. If we never attempted what we thought we couldn't do we would never widen our skill set or increase the size of our comfort zone. So what do we say when one of our team or that little voice inside your head is saying "I can't".

Imagine you've asked somebody to do a piece of work and their response is "I can't". What you then say is: “responding with "I can't" doesn't help us move forward with this situation. What I often do in a situation when I feel like this is I take ‘"I can't"' and turn it around into "how can I"? So instead of our saying "I can't" do this piece of work, we're saying "how can I" do this piece of work. What has to happen in order for me to do this piece of work?”

Now that ‘What has to happen in order for me to do this piece of work?’ might mean the other pieces of work have to be put on the sidelines for the moment, a reprioritisation. Or it might mean delegation has to happen within the team. Or it might mean that there is a coaching and developing need from the team member in order to increase their knowledge, their skill, their confidence. When you ask yourself "how can I" do this then you are addressing the issue and moving the situation forward, even if that means that something else is added to your to do list such as coaching and developing this team member or re-prioritising workload or delegating what you're originally working on or this new project to somebody else. Each time you respond in a "how can I" manner though you are moving the situation forwards which is always to be desired. "I can't" pauses or stops the situation from moving forwards whereas "how can I" enables us to identify the next steps that need to be taken in order to make sure that the situation continues to move forward.

So what I want you to do now is think of two or three things that you're currently saying "I can't" about and flip it round to say "how can I". It might be "I can't" control my workload a big thing like that, or it might be that you want to learn a certain skill so "I can't" I don't know something that I'm working with at the moment is doing double unders where the skipping rope goes under twice with each jump when you're skipping. So at the moment "I can't" do regular double unders but my "how can I" approach is moving me forward, by practising for a short amount of time every day, after initially doing a skill session with my coach, I've managed to regularly do double unders or dubs as they known, and I'm working towards getting them to be completely reliable.

If it's I cannot do this presentation then it might be that we need to work on improving your confidence. There are many videos on quarterdeck online about specific skill sets that you might need to then follow on from the "how can I" flip. So for example if it was a lack of confidence that you were feeling about doing the presentation then one of your "how can I" steps can be to watch the video on presenting and to watch videos on communication and carry out the tasks that are recommended there. Yes it's extra work, but it's extra work that is increasing your skill set increasing your comfort zone and making the next time you are in this situation easier.

What also happens when you flip “I can’t’ into “how can I?” is that, if you’re doing it with your team, they become less and less likely to answer with “I can’t” and more and more likely to go straight into a “how can I” mode of thinking. Every single time you push back at their “I can’t” you are coaching them to coach themselves and problem solve by going straight into a forward momentum way of thinking. Every time you flip it for yourself you’re doing the same. “I can’t becomes a thing of the past and a strategic, problem-solving approach becomes the way that things are dealt with around here.

Who wouldn’t want that?

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