Hopefully you’ve read my article regarding what I think about the phrase ASAP, if not check it out before you continue.

warning what follows is another rant

Recently, I received a request for help from a co-worker. We were talking about a task that was preventing him from getting his work done. We discussed what the problem was and a viable solution. When it came time to assign the task, everything seemed to be going well. I was politely asked to do the task, I responded saying it would be the first thing I’d get done after lunch (about a 2 hour turnaround time). I thought the conversation was over and both sides were happy with the outcome. Then I received the dreaded follow up, from my co-worker “I can’t really get my work done until this task is complete, so the sooner the better”

ughhhhhh, I thought, but then replied, “okay” (cause I’m only a jerk 95% of the time).


The problem as I see it

It’s my opinion that the phrase “the sooner the better” is just as bad and in many ways worse than ASAP. I call it the passive aggressive version of ASAP. It means the same as ASAP, but it’s meant to be a friendlier nudge. I imagine the person saying it with a smile, not realizing what an insult to the receivers intelligence it is. Let’s pick apart the phrase a bit, to understand why it’s terrible to use and why it won’t help you further your agenda.

First the “The sooner” part. In most businesses “The sooner” you can do something productive the better it is for all involved. You’ll never hear anyone say the longer it takes you to type up that document the better. It’s pretty obvious that sooner is better in this context. Assuming, sooner = better, substitute sooner with better you get the phrase. “The better the better”. Most people can quickly see how this phrase is completely useless and redundant in any context.

If you were to say “the better the better” to someone after you assigned them a task they would probably think about ignoring your request altogether. Which get’s me back to the point. Don’t use this phrase, when asking someone to complete an assigned task, unless you want to piss someone off. It’s an insult to their intelligence. If an employee requires this phrase to get things done in a timely manner, then you are dealing with the wrong employee, and you should consider firing them.

But Daddy, I want it now.

So how should the situation be handled? I’m glad you asked. Just as with ASAP, the person requesting help should be direct and honest. Instead of saying the sooner the better, they should just ask if there is any way to get it done sooner. Perhaps they should try offering some good will, by phrasing the request in a more sympathetic way. For example, one could say, “Is there anyway you could get to it before lunch? Lunch is on me if you can finish it before heading out. If not, I completely understand.” You may not get your request met, but at least you are showing you understand that the world does not revolve around your timeline and priorities.

Thanks for taking the time to read my second rant on language in the workplace. I’m sure there are a number of ways you could get your way without using the phrase “the sooner the better”. How would you handle the situation?