Maybe and Might

I’ve learned recently that its better to tell people that I might do something or that maybe I will be going to this. You get better feedback this way. Rather, you actually get feedback this way because it creates an opening for it. People are reluctant to speak their feelings when its clear that you’ve made up your mind already.

It calls to mind a remark by William Tecumsah Sherman, who once told a friend he never gave reasons for what he thought until he absolutely had to. Because after a while, a new and better reason would pop into his head and he’d want to use that instead.

It’s what Polonius told Laertes in Hamlet. Keep your thoughts to yourself, he said, and “take each man’s censure but reserve thy judgement.”

Part of strong opinions, loosely held is side-stepping the tendency to reify. There is no need to amplify your intentions by repeating them as certainties. By wording things as contingencies, I feel that I am to make room for change based on the facts as they come. To set things up literally as only possibilities, but mentally as assumptions. Function follows form, as some say, and this is the proper form.

What this means presenting externally the signs of ambivalence, while beneath, know firmly what you intend to do and how you intend to do it. Because, with the exception of special circumstances, people who seem sure of themselves and their future are threatening. On the outside, be like everyone else: indolent and unsure and drifting. On the inside: none of these things.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.