Guy in a suit looking defiant and frustrated sitting at a desk

Why you will never get anywhere

Written by Workopolis
Posted on April 9, 2014

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

One recent morning my husband went out to get us coffees from the new coffee shop around the corner. When he ordered me a half decaf (I was breastfeeding) he was told “We’re out of decaf. Sorry. We’re waiting for a shipment.”

This shop is a block away from the most popular coffee shop in the area. So, my husband went to the other place. And we haven’t been back to the new place.

I have a feeling that shop will never thrive. Why? Because the barista said the two dreaded words that define the line between the successful and the unsuccessful.

“I can’t.”

Not in those exact words, but, essentially, what she said was “I can’t give you decaf. We don’t have any.”

This is actually pretty crazy. If you’re running a brand new coffee shop and you run out of decaf, the obvious thing to do is to go out and buy some decaf to hold you over until your “shipment” comes in. It shouldn’t even matter if you’re new. Any coffee shop should do that.

You don’t tell a customer you “can’t” do something. “I can’t” are the two words customers and managers should never hear from you. Yes! It’s a cliché! But every cliché is rooted in profound truth. You say “cliché,” I say “classic.”

This advice survives the test of time, because it is classic, and because it is effective.

Never say those words. Strike them from your vocabulary. Replace them with “It would be my pleasure,” or, if things look dodgy, “I’ll do my best.”

If something really can’t be done – like, say your employer asks you to charter a plane in a hurricane – say, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out. I did my best.”

But really, you should always go that extra mile to get something done and there should be almost no situations in which you “can’t” do something.

Two more examples:

    1. A friend and I had finished eating at a not inexpensive downtown restaurant and I asked for my leftovers to go – in a plastic bag. I was informed that they were out of plastic bags and basically that she “couldn’t” give me one. Ridiculous. The waitress should have gone out to one of the many stores on the same block and gotten a bag. That’s what I would have done in her place. It would have taken her less than a minute. But she didn’t. I got one myself.

    2. I bought an expensive dining room table that broke in half, literally, so I sent it back to the store to be fixed. It took days longer than expected to get back because the store’s delivery people only work certain hours and the manager refused to call an outside delivery service.
    “I can’t do that,” she insisted. Of course she could have done it. What she meant was “I won’t do that.”
    I was having a dinner party – IT WAS CHRISTMAS! – so, finally, I called an outside delivery service and paid to have it done myself. Because, obviously, this was not as impossible as the store manager insisted. I never went back to that store and told everyone I knew not to shop there. It’s gone now.

Don’t be this type of person. Because in almost all cases, “I can’t” means “I’m not willing to try that hard,” and it drives managers and customers crazy. Managers love problem solving skills. If you don’t know how to do something, learn. You can teach yourself just about anything that doesn’t require a license on the internet.

Always go the extra mile – in the examples I’ve given, they really only needed to go an extra few feet – and never say “I can’t.”

You’ll stand out. Because it’s not very common.

I won’t guarantee that doing so will bring you the prosperity and happiness you desire, but if you don’t, you’ll never get anywhere worth going.