Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

Doing your best? It could spell trouble

Checking into a hotel in Dorset the night before a training course I asked the receptionist for an iron and board in order to iron a shirt that evening. Her reply:

 “Certainly sir, I’ll do my best”

 I went to my room. I showered, I rang my partner at home and prepared to go downstairs to have my evening meal. This all took about 30 minutes, by which time I was coiled like a spring, wound up big time.

 Why, for goodness sake?

 Because she had said she would do her best.

 As a result, a voice in my head kept mithering:

 “Will I get an iron or won’t I? Will I? Won’t I? Will I? Won’t I? Will I …….”

 It’s at this point I introduce Michael Winner into this post. And, before you jump to conclusions, Its not to quote him as telling me to “Calm down dear, its only an iron”. Rather to say that the blustery old gourmand is squarely with me on this. I heard him on the radio a while back expressing just how frustrated he gets when trying to book a particular restaurant table, to be told “I’ll do my best”. Apparently, it makes him want to explode.

There is a cruel illusion at work here. On the face of it, to say you’ll do your best appears eminently reasonable, even admirable. You are, after all, declaring  that you are willing to pull out all the stops. Yet it’s not specific and therefore leaves the other person uncertain of the outcome. As a result, there is significant risk of getting wound up:

  “Will I get an iron? Won’t I? Will I? Won’t I…..”

“Will they get me my table? Won’t they? Will they? Won’t they?…..” etc

 When working with people on customer care courses, I often run a session I call “A masterclass in creating difficult customers”. Here, I show how, so often we inadvertently create difficult situations without even being aware. This can especially be through the language we use. Not abuse or profanity, but language that appears quite reasonable. Saying “I’ll do my best” is a strong example of this. It’s woolly.

 This is tragic, because the person may genuinely try to do their utmost while the customer, colleague, friend or whoever is becoming increasingly agitated.

 Put another way, people can innocently use this phrase and they will never in a million years be reprimanded for it and highly unlikely to be put straight on its dangers. Yet, how many irate customers or colleagues could it be creating?

 Anyway, back to the hotel. I enquired again at the reception prior to going through for my meal. The receptionist – very affable, very polite – apologised:

 “I’m really sorry sir, I’ll try and look into it and come back to you”.

 Woolly – Try? by when? I wondered.

 “Will I get the iron? Won’t I? When will I know? Will I? Won’t I? When?” whirred the voice in my head.

 At this point I took over and kind of did her job for her. By which I mean, I said

 “I shall be in the restaurant, can you let me know within thirty minutes one way or the other please”.

 At least now a specific deadline had been set and I could enjoy my meal without getting even more wound up and ending up with indigestion. Thankfully I got the iron and ironing board which was sent up to my room within the time limit I’d requested.

 In his interview Mr Winner said that he’d prefer a “no” rather than an “I’ll do my best” as, at least he’d know exactly where he stands.

 So, if you use this phrase or something similar, what would you need to do differently?

 Simply offer up a specific deadline by which time you can get back with an answer one way or the other. Notice if you are saying it because you are afraid to break bad news. It can be preferable to be up front about not being able to deliver rather than getting woolly about it and scurrying off to hide under a stone, hoping the problem will go away.

 There is nothing inherently wrong with doing your best – in fact, you could say that its to be commended. The difficulty is that others are unlikely to know what’s meant by “your best” and are not at all assured of a result. Expectations therefore remain woolly and unmanaged.

 Having said all this, perhaps the hotel story was a bad example. Maybe I misheard the receptionist in the first place. Oh dear, I’m going scarlet –  she may actually  have said “I’ll do my vest [and then pass you the iron]” In which case I would need to apologise to her for the misunderstanding – and get my hearing checked.



PS: Hanging my shirt in the bathroom with the hot shower never works for me as an alternative to ironing it. Is this common tip a myth or am I doing something wrong? Advice most welcome.           


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One Response to “Doing your best? It could spell trouble”

  1. Well stated & with wonderful timing

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