Monday, April 1, 2013

Stop Using the Word "Just"

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I recently made a decision. A resolution of sorts. I'm trying to eliminate the word “just” from my vocabulary. Especially when I'm talking to my staff, my members, and my volunteers.

Let me try to explain. My association isn't the largest association on the planet, but like every other association I know of, we have a ton of stuff going on. Metrics to track, programs to manage, objectives to achieve. And for me more specifically, I have staff members to support, members to communicate with, volunteers to inspire. 

In that mix of needs and competing priorities, any human, consciously or otherwise, is bound to make some choices and set some priorities. Sometimes it's a necessary strategy for getting things done--or for staying sane.

And this is when the word "just" creeps in. That metric is just a temporary indicator. That program is just an experiment. That objective is just something to strive for. That staff person is just an assistant. Those members are just associate members. That volunteer is just a troublemaker.

Perhaps you can already see the problem with this kind of thinking. "Just" minimizes whatever it is you're thinking about. It puts it in a mental category that can be more easily dismissed or ignored. And although there may be times when that type of thinking is appropriate or necessary, it's another thing entirely if phrases shaped around this line of thinking ever escape your lips.

To the people most directly affected, nothing is "just" anything. Of course things have relationships to other things, but first and foremost they are what they are in and of themselves. That metric is not just a temporary indicator to the staff person whose reward system is based on it. That program is not just an experiment to the manager who is afraid of failure. That objective is not just something to strive for to the person looking to advance inside the organization. That staff person is not just an assistant to the members who engage with the association through his efforts. Those members are not just associate members that can be taken for granted. That volunteer is not just a troublemaker that can be ignored.

Make choices. Prioritize, by all means. But when speaking from a position of leadership, never refer to anything as "just" something else. It sends signals you do not intend.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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