The One Word That's Sabotaging Your Well-Meaning Advice

“It’s getting so exhausting,” I vented to my friend while I piled more queso onto a tortilla chip and took a sip from my oversized margarita, “I’m trying my best to stay positive at work, but I feel like nothing’s working.”

“Just quit,” she said in response.

Just. I should just quit my job. With no paycheck, no benefits, and no backup plan—like kissing the security of my full-time gig goodbye was equally as simple as deciding to order my margarita on the rocks, rather than blended.

Chances are, you’ve been on the receiving end of advice that incorporated that pesky little “just” word too. As CEO and New York Times bestselling author, Ramit Sethi, concisely pointed out in a tweet, it tends to creep its way into all sorts of well-meaning guidance and instruction.

Here’s the problem, though: That four-letter word effectively destroys the message of your advice.

Sure, you’re trying to help and—in theory—are even offering a potential solution. But, it’s way oversimplified. And, the addition of the word “just” really only pours salt into that wound. It neglects to recognize the numerous other roadblocks and uncontrollable circumstances that could complicate that black and white direction.

You’re overweight? Just go on a diet—as if that doesn’t involve months of dedication to changing your eating habits, tracking your calorie intake, and re-learning what to purchase at the grocery store.

You want a raise? Just talk to your boss—even if you’re terrified of your manager, you don’t know where to start, and you know that your company is currently going through a tight spot financially.

You’re nervous for that networking event? Just be yourself—even though the only version of yourself that you can manage to muster is the one who’s sweating profusely while hiding in a bathroom stall (these mindset changes can help you overcome some of those nerves, by the way!).

Yes, your intentions in offering that advice might be pure. But, the addition of the word “just” ultimately makes you come off as condescending and like you’re trying to blow off that person’s predicament or concern—a concern that’s legitimate and far more complicated than your straightforward response acknowledges.

Instead

The next time you’re trying to point a colleague or friend in the right direction and are tempted to utter that little word, opt for something that’s a little more constructive.

To that friend who’s complaining about her weight, why not pass along some of your favorite healthy cooking recipes or suggest that she join you at this new workout class you found?

That person who desperately wants a raise? Rather than saying, “Just ask your boss,” try a gentler suggestion like, “Would speaking to your boss be an option?”

And, that friend whose stomach is in knots at the thought of that upcoming networking event? Share a few of the tips you use to calm your own nerves. Or, better yet, offer to go with him! There’s power in numbers—and, hey, you might just get something out of it too!

These responses are all far more helpful—not to mention sympathetic—than the curt one you were previously relying on. So, the next time you find yourself feeling tempted to offer that sort of short and unhelpful reply, remember this: just don’t.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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