The Unexpected Impact of “I don’t care.”
It's coming to the end of the day, and one of your top employees comes to you about a detail in the project they are working on. You're busy and trust them, so you say, "I don't care."
Maybe your response is not even that strong; perhaps you brush them off with a "However you think is best."
Unfortunately, your intention of taking a decision off your plate and empowering your employee to carry on is not the message that landed.
You may translate “I don’t care,” to mean: "I am not invested in that particular detail."
But your team may translate it to: "I no longer care about what you are working on, or even you."
Leaders who use the phrase "I don't care" in their responses may be surprised about its impact on their teams. The employee immediately sees the leader disengaging and no longer aligning with the team around them.
It is easy for a team to get demoralized when they learn something they care enough about to seek feedback on is something their leader has clearly vocalized that they don't care about.
All of us are guilty of this at times, even in our personal lives. For example, your partner asks you where you want to go for dinner, and you respond, "I don't care." As in the workplace, and while unintentional, you are giving the impression that you are not invested in your evening out together.
This seemingly insignificant phrase is actually quite effective at pushing people away.
So instead, use this as an opportunity to come closer and find a way to align with the team using a response that keeps both of you engaged.
Consider asking a clarifying question, or solicit their opinion. A quick go-to to keep in your pocket, "What do you think is best?" is better than the alternative.
But the best response – have a preference.
When you are tempted to respond with "I don't care." Stop yourself. Think. Ask for more information if you need it. And share your thoughts and preferences. Let them know you care.