• Karla Robertson

Free Will and Free Won't: Beyond Can or Can't

What you say to people sets an expectation; Following through on what you say to people will build trust.

You’ve heard it before. You may have even been the one saying these words: I can’t do that.


This is a common phenomenon that occurs in conversations every day. It's one of the areas I like to focus on in my dialogs with my clients. So let’s look at my favorite: I can’t. Which prompts me to often ask: “You can’t or you won’t?”. This is a very powerful question because Won’t comes from a different place than Can’t.


Can or Can’t is about ability. Will or Won’t is a choice. It flows from our desire, motivation and sense of commitment to do or be something…or not.


I can’t jump 6 feet vertically on my own power. No matter how much I will myself it’s not going to happen and you won’t see me playing forward for any basketball teams…ever. Consider, though, if someone commits a wrong toward you. They lied, didn’t follow through on something important, let you down somehow. They ask for forgiveness and you say: “I can’t forgive you.” Of course, you can. You just won’t. You are choosing to withhold forgiveness for whatever reasons.


How many times do you find yourself saying can or can’t when you really mean will or won’t? How does making that distinction in your mind shift what you end up saying or doing? How does that change your dialog with this person or decisions you make? ‘Can’ also has its limitations. While you can do something, it remains to be seen if you’ll actually follow through and do it. Will you do what you can do? Can I trust that? When you say, “I can do that.” It’s just a statement of ability not commitment. “I will do that”, it feels like it’s almost done, doesn’t it? Not only does the other person feel that you can do it or find someone who can but you made a commitment to make sure it is done because you said you will do it.


Pay attention this week to receiving and giving the “can/can’t and will/won’t”. See if you don’t feel the difference. Let me know.


Karla Robertson is a Professional Certified Coach, speaker and Founder of Shifting Gears® Executive Coaching based in NJ. As The Executive’s NeuroCoach, Karla works with senior executives who consistently define her candor, humor, directness as the hallmarks of her approach. Karla blends neuroscience with coaching methodology and business experience, challenges their thinking to advance their career and leadership effectiveness. This approach develops a more agile mind and sharpens their ability to make better decisions, build better teams and drive better outcomes. Karla is the published author of The Agile-Minded Executive: Drive Better Results by Shifting How You Think, and is a keynote speaker on the topic of developing an agile mind to adapt and flow with today’s relentlessly shifting landscape.



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