“I don’t care.”

Although it can be a way of expressing a lack of preference, it can also (perhaps inadvertently) portray apathy or lack of concern. Similarly “It doesn’t matter” or the teenage favorite “whatever” can have negative impacts.  Caring is so central to relationships, so phrases that avoid possible misinterpretation are more desirable. A couple of good alternatives are “I’m open” or “I’m flexible.” In a discussion of phrases that enhance relationships (in Toilet Paper, Toothpaste, and Tuna-Noodle Casserole), my laughter mentor, Steve Wilson (1998) suggested “I’m open” will have you perceived as cooperative, interested, and generous. I heard “I don’t care” as part of a parental rebuke the other night and it supported my feeling that when we want to communicate our openness, we should choose something other than “I don’t care.”

Although our mood, energy, and feeling in the relationship are often decisive, our words can make a difference.

Often there is nothing gained in pointing out a mistake. When the focus is on what has already happened, it tends to be about being right, making wrong, and score-keeping. A great phrase to direct attention to future improvement or possibility is “For next time.” Instead of having a battle or pointing out an error, “for next time” can be a way of saving face. I learned this one from Terry Orlick,, one of Canada’s top sport psychologists, who has written some wonderful books for parents. I remember Terry describing how if you use this phrase with your children, you will find them learning to use it, too. In general, assessments are valuable as they help people to make adjustments to improve future performance. “For next time” is a great way to get us going in the right direction. If you have a comment, I’d love to hear what you would like to read “for next time.”

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