“How might we…”

Here’s a little change that can have a big impact. Try it. It works.

You will literally never hear him say, “I can’t.” He uses more constructive versions of that sentiment that emphasize the possible, such as “I could if I…”

…IDEO’s favorite antidote to negative speech patterns is the phrase “How might we…?” It was introduced to us by Charles Warren, now salesforce.com’s senior vice president of product design, as an op­timistic way of seeking out new possibilities in the world….In three disarmingly simple words, it captures much of our perspective on creative groups. The “how” suggests that improvement is always possible. The only question remain­ing is how we will find success. The word “might” temporarily lowers the bar a little. It allows us to consider wild or improbable ideas instead of self-editing from the very beginning, giving us more chance of a breakthrough. And the “we” establishes own­ership of the challenge, making it clear that not only will it be a group effort, but it will be our group.


If he would just add this feature, we can solve that problem.

If you just pick me up a little early, we’ll be able to get there in time for the previews.

Before you take off, please take care of just one more thing.

I’m presently trying to omit the word from my vocabulary, and that’s made me hyper-sensitive to others using it.

Just is passively presumptive. Most of the time I insert a just, I am really saying, “I know that this is probably a bigger deal than I want to acknowledge, so I’m tossing a just in there to make me feel better about asking it.”

Dropping it from my sentence changes the sentence’s meaning. I am no longer masking my request as something that’s inconsequential; I’m simply making a request, and leaving it open to the recipient of the request to assess the request’s relative difficulty. Also, by consciously dropping the just, I’m reminded to ask the follow up question, “How would that affect you?”

I’ve been trying to do this for a week or so, and I think it’s making me a better communicator—or if not better, then a little more mindful.

What are some other words like just?