Tuesday, November 15, 2016


When I was heading to business school one friend who'd already been through said she'd only one advice to give me,  "Play the chicken game". What is that? She explained when her school assigned team was expected to get together and work on assignments, everybody would agree to a certain time. If anything came up in her schedule that seemed to conflict, my friend would notify the group as early as possible asking to reschedule. Sometimes she pointed out schedule clashes that affected other people in the group too. On the other hand, she used to get very annoyed by teammates who'd only notify the larger group that they wouldn't make it to the team meeting at the last minute. Sometimes multiple people would be missing, necessitating a last minute reschedule.

As is typical practice in business school, there came a time when the group had to give each other feedback. The unanimous feedback they gave her was that she was disruptive to scheduling, as evidenced by the disproportionate number of requests to reschedule she sent out. But ... she thought ... that's because I look at my schedule in advance!?

So she started playing the chicken game -- if she saw a conflict, she'd never call it out. Inevitably, somebody would find some conflict at the last minute, and she'd ride that train to reschedule to a time that  better worked for her. In the odd case that she was the only one who a conflict, she'd just bow out of that meeting, but that rarely happened. She named that "The Chicken Game". 

I don't remember having to play "The Chicken Game" in business school. In fact, I remember my core group being reasonably punctual. In any case, most of us had identical class schedules, didn't really have many free time slots to reschedule. Later in the program though I remember people becoming very flaky, as our schedules became different and people started searching for jobs. 

In recent years I have noticed that 'maybe' is becoming a popular answer.  For me, if a plan is looking too tough to navigate in my schedule, the answer is a definitive, 'no'. 

Question: "Will you be able to join us for dinner on Thursday?" 
Answer: "Oh, I have two other dinners I have committed to. Maybe I will try to swing by."  

Wait, you have two dinners, and you're considering accepting a third one? Why, because you think I can't live another partial dinner without you? Are you doing me a favor? Because now I have to organize a dinner with x% of  seats with maybe-sayers. If this is at a restaurant, I have to reserve this idiotic person a chair. Or I can not reserve them a chair, and then have to act all concerned and try to accommodate them if they eventually show up at a full table, trying to figure out ways to pull a spare chair and draw them into the fold.

If 'maybe' was a polite no, I wouldn't mind. But it is not. People do leave engagements untimely, announcing they had a similar concurrent invitation awaiting their grand entrance. And they do show up at my events partway.

I distinctly remember a time in NYC in my mid-late twenties coming the realization that I could at most have 3 commitments on a weekend day before the weekend started becoming unpleasant and stressful. So I started aiming for 2 commitments / day, giving me some free time to feel like the weekend wasn't work. When I declined to join friends on things that seemed legitimately cool but conflicting, I remember especially this group of girls who'd say "But try, ok?". Um, no. I can tell you in advance, the probability of me making it is very, very low. If there was a change in scheduling, I'd call you back and ask if it was still ok for me to join, because now my answer is 'yes'. And I would take no offense if at that point it was no longer possible for me to join.  If a friend allowed me to confirm attendance late, I'd even offer to take on the admin of calling the restaurant where the friend already has reservations to add myself to the table. 

Tonight I have a dinner at a restaurant where previously I had failed twice to make reservations as the restaurant is too new and popular in town. Finally, I took a far in advance date where they confirmed they had openings and I invited friends, one of whom is a friend who I know had also struggled to get in a reservation. I also invited her most recent date. Her confirmation? "It will be me, and maybe +1". Then she confirmed that the +1 I'd originally thought wouldn't make it, but maybe it will be another date. Maybe. "We'll see", she said. Yeah, I can't wait to see -- it will be the highlight of my evening! Meanwhile, I can't invite other friends I want to see because I have to reserve a chair for her maybe. 

After observing friends who are serial maybe-sayers, I have come to conclude two things:
1) They are invariably younger than I am -- solidly millennials
2) They have major FOMO issues

I need to find a polite way of saying, "I will count your 'maybe' as a no - maybe just becomes too complicated for me to manage". Or maybe I can be impolite about it. 

WSJ had an interesting read on it in 2010: The Many Powers of Maybe 

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