At a previous job, one of my management mentors always took umbrage when someone asked me a question and my response was “I don’t care.” It took me a bit to understand that, when he heard me say that, he understood it as “this isn’t important, why are you bothering me?” He’d remind me that I did care about the results of the decision.
Thinking about it again recently, I started to clarify the situations where I use that phrase as shorthand for what I really mean.
I Don’t Have a Strong Preference
I’ll often see developers get locked in a heated, extended debate over the best way to implement some feature. Often times, when I’m asked to weigh in as the “tiebreaker” I’ll ask each person how much they care about the decision. If one person is passionate and the other is only playing devil’s advocate, the person who cares a lot should move forward with their idea.
I Trust You to Handle the Details
As a manager, I shouldn’t be making day-to-day decisions about implementation details. If I ask one of my directs to write a job posting, I’m not effectively delegating if I then nitpick their output or require them to ask me specific questions about every bullet point. That doesn’t mean I don’t review their work — I just remember to ask myself “is this important to change or just my preference” before asking for revisions.
I Don’t Own This Decision
There are times when someone will ask me my opinion on something and I don’t want to give an answer because it isn’t my decision to make. I want to avoid people later saying “but Jon said we should…” when in was only spitballing. An example might be the best way to design a user experience for our newest app. I’m happy to brainstorm with the team, but the product owner is the ultimate decision maker and should be present.
Communication is about the listener. Sometimes you might use a terse, flippant-sounding phrase as a shortcut for what you really mean. Take the time to articulate; people will appreciate the insight.