BLUF: Is saying "I will try ... " good / appropriate / correct / best? (I will try to change. I will try to do better. I will try to get that done. I will try to fix it.)

In the past week or so, I've run across "I'll try ..." a number of times and it doesn't sit well with me for some reason. A wise fictional character once said "Do. Or do not. There is no try." I know I'm a high D and I'm results-focused so that's probably where my discomfort with "I'll try" comes into play. Trying is all well and good but "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." It's great if someone wants to try to do better but if the behavior or results are the same, the "wanting to try" aspect is irrelevant because the results are still disappointing.

I see the word "try" as a hedging word - as in hedging my bets. "I want to do better if only so you don't hate me but I can't commit to actually doing better so I'll toss you a 'try' so that you won't kill me for this mistake right now and if I screw it up again in the future, you won't have counted on me to actually DO better since I only said I'd TRY to do better."

I've been listening to some podcasts this morning and I heard they were talking about how we do certain things and said "Guys, this is ... " only to follow-up with a side note "for the ladies, 'guys' is neutral." It occurred to me that the gendered pronoun didn't faze me in the least. I mention this because I don't think this "try" issue is a semantic / word choice issue for me so much a mindset, attitude, goal issue. By inserting "try" into whatever it is they're saying, they're undermining their own goals and setting the stage for their own failure.

Am I being too hard on humanity for "trying" to do things?  (Note that I don't actually take action based on these thoughts. I don't get in anyone's face about telling me they'll "try" and I don't get into a philosophical or semantic discussion with anyone about their word choices.) I'm fairly certain I do what the "try" implies: I lower my expectation of their results and effort because they've hedged their bets.

williamelledgepe's picture
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I think you are right to not take action specific to one word.  This would annoy me as well, but that is my umbrella.

What about following their statement, "I'll try" with something like:  "What obstacle are there?  Do you see anything that might get in your way?  What help do you need?  Do you need and training?  What stands between you and the objective?"  I find that this doesn't stop the hedging, but it does start resolving possible concerns.  

I like to end it with - "Let me know as soon as you see something that might prohibit you from meeting the task on deadline and within quality expectations."  I especially like "Notify me if..." because it keep the onus on them.  

Kevin1's picture

I'm sensing that the variety of DISC profiles may come into it.

A high-D is going to be all about the result and less likely to say 'I'll try'

A high C is going to be conscious of your goal driven tendency and is caught between wanting to appease you while not feeling comfortable to committing to anything that is not 100% certain because to do so opens them up to being wrong

A high S is similarly going to be conscious of your goal driven tendency and is caught between wanting to appease you while not feeling comfortable to committing to anything that may cause unrest or discomfort among the team

A high I will surely say they will do whatever it is you want before seeing some shiny object and forgetting whatever it was they committed to.



ashdenver's picture

Loved the take on the high I, Kevin - thanks for the chuckle!

jib88's picture

I also don't like hearing people say "I'll try...". I immediately think that what they're really saying is that they have no intention of doing it, whether they think they should or not. I most often hear this from people who are notoriously bad at keeping commitments and getting things done, and I think the language is natural when you know you're probably not going to be able to do something.

I'm guilty of this as well - I find myself saying "I'll try" when I know in my head that there's too much else going on and I probably won't get to it. Whenever I notice it consciously I stop and correct - I either commit to doing it or I say that I won't be able to do it. I set the same expectations of others (at least direct reports).

It takes a good relationship, but I find it works perfectly well to respond to "I'll try..." with "You'll try?" (probably raising my eyebrow at the same time). The typical response I get is either "OK, I'll get it done" or something along the lines of "There's just this other project deadline". At that point you can usually just ask what is a reasonable expectation for someone to commit to (and adjust as necessary).


ashdenver's picture

Thank you, Jib, for confirming I'm not the only one on the planet who takes issue with "I'll try."  Depending on the relationship, I may do the raised-eyebrown "Try?" thing with the person. In a conference call or meeting setting, I just jot down "try" for the person or their topic rather than piping up or allowing a facial expression get the better of me.

Now I'm curious - does reading this thread make people nervous about speaking? "Oh man, there are at least two of them who are really focused on the words people use; I'd better not trip up or use the wrong word in front of the wrong person or else things could get really bad."

Kevin1's picture

If 'I'll try' indicates they have concerns about actually achieving the result, then you could ask questions like...

  • Do you have any concerns that would prevent this from being achieved?
  • Is there anything you need help with to achieve this result?
  • What, if anything, would prevent you from achieving this and what can you do to mitigate those factors?

Kind regards


williamelledgepe's picture
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As a case to prove the richness of face-to-face versus email (or a discussion forum) I can say, "I'll try" in many different ways. It may show a lack of confidence (which might be appropriate given the direct and the assignment). It may also show apathy, which is unacceptable. I have a direct who might say, "I'll try" yet still convey she is tackling something new with vigor and curiosity. I have another where, "I'll try" means take your managaement elsewhere and leave me alone. I interpret these differently based on tone and the surrounding conversation. Body language and facial expressions are probably part of that interpretation for those who are skilled at interpreting.  The different contexts cause me to react differently to the phrase.