Do or Do Not, There is No Try

The Princess Bride contains, for me, nearly all of life’s great lessons: about friendship, about love, about never starting a land war in Asia.

But Star Wars, at times, goes even deeper. Who can forget the words of Jedi Master Yoda when Luke is attempting to lift his X-Wing fighter out of the swamp using the Force?

YODA: Always with you what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say? You must unlearn what you have learned.

LUKE: OK, I’ll give it a try.

YODA: No! Try not! Do, or do not, there is no try.

So often, our language betrays us, illustrating a lack of commitment, a lack of belief in ourselves, a lack of willingness to own our part in creating a problem. As in:

I’ll try to get that you by this Friday. 

I’ll do my best.

I have to _______.

I can’t do that…

I’m sorry that you feel that way. 

Think about the difference in what we communicate when we, instead, say:

I will get it you by this Friday.

I will solve this problem and get back to you with the solution. 

I get to _______.

I can’t do that yet.

I’m sorry that I made you feel that way.

Our language both informs and communicates our thinking. Being more deliberate about the words we choose shifts how people perceive us and shifts our mindset in the face of new challenges.


The best way to learn a foreign language is to mirror a native speaker. Listen, pay close attention to the sounds they make, the words they group together, and then try to match it: their phrasing, pronunciation, sounds…even the movements they make.

We are social creatures, and this sort of behavior comes naturally to us. It’s called “speech alignment,” and it’s been shown to facilitate communication and mutual understanding. Even more interesting, how much speech alignment we engage in is often a function of how much we agree or disagree with what’s being said. (We also speech align less with AI than we do with people, at least for now).

These effects can be short term (I thought a 60dB team member had an American accent in English until a heard her in a Loom video—100% Brit!!) or long term (my wife losing her Southern accent when she moved to the Northeast).

While mirroring can help us do everything from learn languages to get into verbal sync with someone, its unintended consequence can be that we amplify negative tendencies we come across in others.

As in, we:

  • Meet someone who acts socially awkward and mirror that social awkwardness, making it harder to connect
  • Come across a slow / uncommunicative (potential) client and find ourselves responding slowly / being uncommunicative
  • Match unprovoked aggression with more aggression.
  • Join a group that is consensus-oriented and start tamping down our willingness to share our opposing point of view
  • Etc.

Everywhere we go, we take in the behaviors of the people around us. It’s as natural as breathing.

And, just like we can take a moment to notice our breath (or drop our shoulders, or relax our face…try it now) we can bring our speech alignment into our consciousness.

It’s one more chance to become aware of, and take control of, our natural responses, and, if we choose, to zig when others zag.

Word Economy

Most emails are too long. And most emails, long or short, are either emotional deserts or they transmit the wrong emotional content.

Short is the only solution to email overload, and radical email shorthand is employed by nearly all the successful busy people I know. But it only works if you pick words that transmit feeling too.

One word shorthand for…

Friendly: Hey, hi, please, help, okay, great

Informal: yeah, yup, nah, sure, yo, …,

Aggressive: just (“it’s just that”), never mind, forget it

Dismissive: whatever (…you want), fine, c’mon

Connection: thank you, truly, warmly, visit (with), sorry

Encouraging: go for it!, absolutely, fabulous, super, yes!

“Just the facts” is a nice idea. But like it or not we’re communicating emotions, even in six words or less.

What they say, what they mean

“I’m not saying that…” = “I AM saying that…”

“By the way…” = “The most important thing to me is…”

“I’ll be brief…” = “You’d better make yourself comfortable.”

“Oh, one last thing…” = “Listen up.”

“I’d like this presentation to be a real dialogue…” = “Shut up and listen…”