Look back over any recent texts and emails you’ve sent to friends, associates or your team. If they look something like this, you’re caught in this word’s trap:
“I’d love to…. but I’m really busy.” “Sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier! I’ve been so busy.” “What’s going on with me? Just busy as usual!”
You guessed it. The single-word saboteur is BUSY.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with actually being busy: People can certainly have many obligations and still maintain great relationships. And it’s not being busy that drives people away; it’s the word itself.
- Everyone is busy.
These days, saying you’re busy is basically like saying you’re alive.
Being busy may once have been an indicator of importance; it may once have implied that many people and projects relied on you. Now, it’s a filler word that can be applied to any situation: You could be 10 years into your job and be “busy.” You could be between jobs and be “busy.” You could be vacationing and be “busy.” The word itself no longer relates to any specific, making it basically meaningless — and meaningless language is a problem for relationships because it doesn’t help other people understand what, specifically, you’re going through. It actually impedes mutual understanding.
- It’s open to (negative) interpretation.
The vague nature of “I’m really busy” leaves the real reason why you’re being unavailable open to interpretation. While many people will accept “being busy” as enough of a reason for not meeting for coffee, eventually your team (or friends or family) will see it as a veil over a more sinister reason for staying away.
In other words, “busy” allows others to fill in the blank of your true intentions. Often, they will fill that blank with a negative assumption. In a worst-case scenario, friends may feel like your “busy” is a way of blowing them off without having to state a reason for doing so.
- It means “not right now.”
Often, “busy” simply means that you have higher priorities right now than seeing friends — which is totally fine. You may be caring for a child or launching a new product; there are lots of legitimate reasons why friendships fall down one’s list of priorities. The issue is that “being busy” doesn’t communicate any of that.
Saying “not right now” when someone tries to engage with you is a relationship killer because it fosters a feeling of rejection. “Busy” is the friendship equivalent of “not right now.” It lacks a sense of caring about the other person and fosters distance as a result.
Three better options:
- Be more specific
There’s an easy way to eliminate the vagueness of “busy” and that’s telling others specifically what you’re busy doing. Of course, this takes more of your time and effort — something that can be challenging when you’re already really swamped. But it’s worth doing because the difference in how the message is received is significant.
- Set a time frame.
If you’re busy because of an especially difficult crunch time either at work or at home, it’s helpful to make others aware of just how long this “busy” time will last. For example, if you know your project will wrap up in a month and your schedule will open up soon after, communicate your desire to reconnect with everyone then. Even if that month turns into two, your friends will appreciate that you expressed the desire to be together again as soon as possible.
3. Determine if you need to have a crucial conversation.
And now, it’s time to confront the dark side of “busy.” As we all know, “being busy” can be a method by which we disengage from a relationship we no longer want to have. If you’re using “busy” in this way, it’s worth determining if you need to have that difficult conversation with someone you’ve been avoiding.