My neighbour came by yesterday and, seeing me sit at the computer, she piped – “Are you busy?” I looked up and answered, “No.”
“But I can see you are working,” she kept on. I said, “That doesn’t necessarily mean I am ‘busy’. I can stop what I am doing as you are visiting me and then continue with what I was working on later.”
We are living in times where most people are not able to switch from what they are doing to a new situation that opens up right in front of them. Usually the keywords “I am busy,” and also “I am too busy right now,” make everybody understand to step back and that NOW is not the time to come with questions, requests, invites, stories because the person appears to be such a very active, very busy and presently untouchable individual.
The above described exchange happened in person – but similar scenarios also play out constantly in e-mails or via texting. We are using such phrases so many times during the day with the effect that we end up feeling ‘really busy’ – and consequently stressed – because we have been repeating it like a mantra.
Kira Asatryan at Psychology Today has more on this modern phenomenon:
There’s this word you use all the time. It’s a seemingly harmless word – it’s close to meaningless, really – but it’s slowly, subversively tainting your relationships.
Look back over any recent texts and emails you’ve sent to friends. If they look something like this, you’re caught in this word’s trap.
“I’d love to hang out! 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.” It’s a word that’s stealthily driving your friends away, and it’s time to eliminate it from your social vocabulary.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with actually being busy – people can certainly have many obligations and still maintain great relationships. It’s not being busy that drives people away, it’s the word itself.
Let’s discuss the top three reasons it’s time to be done with “busy”… and three ways to replace it with something better.
1. Everyone is Busy.
In this day and age, 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 rely 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 a lot 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.
2. It’s Open to (Negative) Interpretation.
The vague nature of saying “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 hanging out the first few times you use it, eventually your friends will see it as a veil over a more sinister reason for not hanging out. Maybe you don’t like them anymore and are too afraid to say it.
In other words, “busy” allows others to fill in the blank of your true intentions. Often, they will fill in the blank with something negative. In a worst case scenario, friends may feel like “being busy” is a way of blowing them off without having to state a reason for doing so.
3. It’s a “Not Right Now.”
Oftentimes, “being 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.
In one of my previous posts, 5 Phrases That Can Kill a Relationship, I say that the phrase “not right now” 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.
That being said, just because “busy” is not a word that generates closeness, that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate the same thing in a way that does generate closeness. Here are some tips for telling your friends you can’t right now without hurting their feelings.
1. Be Specific.
There’s an easy way to eliminate the vagueness of “busy” and that’s by telling your friends specifically what you’re busy doing. Of course, being specific takes a bit more of your time and effort – something that can be challenging when you’re really swamped. But it’s worth doing because the difference in how the message is received is significant.
Let’s say you invite a friend to your birthday party and she writes back, “I’d love to but I’m really busy!” Alternatively, she writes back, “I’d love to but Jack has Karate that evening and he specifically asked me to watch him this time. Have some champagne for me though!”
Feel the difference? The second message explains your friend’s reasoning, gives context, and communicates that she’s still invested in yourhappiness. The first message, frankly, is a blow-off.
2. 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 your friends aware of how long this “busy” time will last. For example, if you know your product will launch in a month and you’re schedule will open up soon thereafter, communicate your desire to reconnect with everyone then.
Even if the product slips and the month turns into two, your friends will appreciate that you expressed a desire to be together again as soon as you can.
3. Determine if You Need to Have a Difficult 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. The kids call it “ghosting” – distancing yourself from a relationship without ever explaining why.
If you’re using “busy” in this way, it’s worth determining if you need to have that difficult conversation with the person you’re ghosting. While it’s always uncomfortable to “break up” with a friend, some friendships deserve this attention. In some cases, it’ll cause great sadness to both parties to “busy” a friendship to death.
So that’s it! Try saying goodbye to “busy” and see what happens!