"Yeah, Totally!": Don't confuse interest with commitment

June 22 | Guest post by Sarah Dopp

This post was originally published in 2010 on a website that no longer exists. I asked the author if she would let me syndicate it here, because I still refer to this concept of "Yeah, Totally!" a LOT…

yeah totally hoodie

"So, do you wanna help?"

"Yeah, totally!"

When you're doing something big and interesting (like, oh, say, organizing an online community) and are looking for people to help, please, for the love of niches and all that matters to you, understand that not all Yeah, Totally!s are created equal.

Here are some of the ones I've come across:

"Yeah, I totally think what you're doing is great, and I'm going to be super supportive whenever you talk to me about it. I'll even Twitter about it!"

"Yeah, I totally want to hear more about how I can help. Please give me more info so I can think seriously about the details."

"Yeah, totally, I'm excited to help in whatever way you need! But you should know that I get excited about lots of things, and something else might be more exciting to me next week, and that might take up some of the time I'm promising you. You understand, right?"

"Yeah, I totally want to help, but only if I find the work satisfying."

"Yeah, I totally want to help, but only when I'm available."

"Yeah, I totally want to help, but only if it's something I'm really good at."

"Yeah, I totally want you to feel supported.  I also know that you know I'm really busy, so by 'help,' you're just asking me to be interested, think about it sometimes, and offer a hand or idea if the moment seems right… right?"

"Yeah, totally. And that job description you just asked me to commit to seems fair enough. But I also know you contacted me because I'm bringing my own skills and interests to the table, so I'm just going to adjust it to fit what works for me. That's cool, right?"

"Yeah, totally.  … and by 'help' you mean 'sleep together,' right? Oh, I knew you were looking at me that way for a reason. Of course! Just tell me where I 'sign up' *wink wink*."

"Yeah, totally. And that means you'll help on my project just as much, right?"

"Yeah, totally. I'm committed to your project and I trust your judgment. I'll let you know if your requests don't fit what I'm able to do, but overall, yes, I'm in. Tell me where and how."

That last one is gold. But it's not the same as all the ones before it, even if you want it to be.

And here's the real kicker. The person saying "Yeah, totally" probably doesn't know which one they mean.  All they know is that they're interested. Chances are they need to know what committing will feel like before they can affirm what they're in for.  It's your job to help them feel it out.

It's also your job to stay alert to the possibility that their yeah totally might mean something other than what you're hoping for, and to work with that whenever their real interest is as soon as it becomes evident.

Accept their real interest. Be grateful for it. Don't get bitter about it.

Unless they're just trying to sleep with you. Then you can slap them.

  1. I'm a volunteer staffer for a convention, and when recruiting for new staff, we get a lot of "totally"s from people who are only passively interested. One way I use to filter those out is to not initiate any further talks with them until they fill out our staff application. If they take the time to do that, it indicates that they're actually serious about wanting to help, and have thought about whether they'll have the time as well. If you can find/create a qualifying action like that to help gauge interest and set expectations, it can save a lot of time for both parties.

    But for my part, if I'm interested but not sure if I can commit, or just don't have enough details to commit responsibly, I'll respond with, "oh, maybe, let me look into it!" That way I'm not setting an expectation or making promises, and I have an out if it turns out that I don't really want to do what they're asking.

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