Avoid the Danger of Whatever

Rather than a passive “whatever” response, think about creating a plan to break down the barriers and win the approval.

You and your colleagues have just made a big pitch to leadership to invest in an important new training program. It will incorporate the latest in artificial intelligence (AI) and deal with all the challenges of remote work. If leadership bites, the program will require more and new resources.

Then the leaders tell you, “We’ve studied your proposal and although it seems meaningful, we are going to hold off on a decision for now. We will get back to you.”

You know the response probably means a big fat “No.”

One of your colleagues says with a sigh, “Whatever.”

NO! Stop saying, “Whatever.” In this case, the person saying, “Whatever,” could mean:

  • I don’t care.
  • I give up.
  • I never wanted to propose this new training program in the first place.

Rather than a passive “whatever” response, a better one would be creating a plan to break down the barriers and win the approval. Or, if your instincts told you the program would never, ever be approved, to move on. In either case, a decision was made and “whatever” was avoided.


The word, “whatever,” is a shortcut for an array of attitudes. The word is toxic. Using the “whatever” word is also a way to avoid making decisions. When it comes to decision-making, the word is, once again, toxic.

Too often, we associate “whatever” with slackers and teenagers. But in reality, research shows that we all use the word, and that usage hurts us both professionally and in our personal lives. When it comes to big decisions, we rarely approach them with a “whatever” attitude. We are more likely to use the word when it comes to small decisions, and that’s why the word can be so harmful. Life and career success is made up of small decisions.

Consider this: Researchers at Cornell University estimate we make about 35,000 decisions each day. Yes, that is the correct number of zeroes. So our success and satisfaction are intertwined with the ability to make those decisions. Many good tools exist for helping you make decisions. All of them clarify options so that making a choice is easier.

Whether you use sophisticated decision-making tools, your gut, or a list of pros and cons, the word, “whatever,” should never be a part of the mix.

Richard Moran, Ph.D
Richard Moran, Ph.D., is the author of “Never Say Whatever: How Small Decisions Make a Big Difference.”