Please stop telling me to “feel free.”
It’s one of the most ridiculous phrases I come across … and I come across it frequently.
You know, as in when people email you asking for something … but they don’t want come right out and ask for it, so instead, they tell you to “feel free” to do it.
As in, “I’m looking for a new job; feel free to pass my resume along.”
Or, “I want to pick your brain so feel free to suggest a time when we can talk.”
(Being told someone wants to pick my brain is another phrase I absolutely can’t stand.
It immediately conjures up images of a pick-axe being taken to my noggin, leaving a gaping hole in what is, for the most part, a decently-shaped skull currently covered with quite nice hair.
But I digress.)
I’ve seen it on blogs as well. “Feel free to share this blog!”
Or, “Feel free to leave a comment!”
Or (this is the worst of all, IMHO), “Feel free to sign up for my RSS feed!”
Now, I think that most of the time, folks don’t even realize they’re doing this.
They’re so used to using corporate BS, that insidious phrases such as “feel free” have crept into their every day vocabulary.
Perhaps it’s because I didn’t grow up in America, but I find myself digging my heels in and resisting the urge to throw something at my laptop (after all, it’s not the laptop’s fault) when I see this.
I should feel free to do what you want me to do?
Why, of course I should!
Except, I’d be far more likely to consider doing it if you just came out and asked me.
As in, “I’m looking for a new job; would you consider sharing my resume with those you think appropriate?”
Or, “I’d love to pick your brain; would you have 10-15 minutes when we might talk?”
And as far as blogs go, don’t even put it on there. If people like it, they will share it!
Here’s the thing.
We are all free to do anything we want. Or not to do it, as the case may be.
If you really want me to do something for you, just come out and ask.
And if you’ve taken the time to be nice to me in the past, chances are I will do it.
Even if you haven’t been in touch with me for months, or years. I tend not to forget people (for now, we’ll see what happens as I grow older), and I really don’t mind being asked for help.
Countless people have helped me, and when I can, I like to do the same for others.
But telling me to “feel free” to do something just reminds me that I am equally free not to do that same thing.
Especially if I don’t know you from Adam, you’ve secured an introduction to me via so-and-so (which is fine, that was a smart thing to do) … but don’t you think I should at least have a sense of who you are before you go around telling me to feel free to do stuff?
It’s not just what one asks for.
It’s also how one asks for it that counts.
Image: Carbon Arc via Flickr, CC 2.0
@jodeehammond Could this be the birth of a new hashtag? #dontfeelfree or something like that…!
@Griddy Exactly! I personalized my greeting box too (I use the What Would Seth Godin Do plugin, have you tried that?). It’s interesting that you sometimes use the phrase when you speak… I don’t think I’ve ever done that, but probably because it doesn’t come naturally to me.
I do use “Go for it” sometimes in speech as well as writing. I remember, when we were in London a few months ago, a lot of people used that as a way to basically say, “feel free,” but it just seemed so much friendlier. Of course, the fab British accent may have had something to do with that too. And British-isms come more naturally to me too!
Thanks for stopping by, Griddy. I know you busy you are, so I really appreciate your time!
Well, feel free to tell me how you really feel!!! haha
I admit that I’ve used that line a few times when talking although I try to make it a point not to use so much when I write. I totally get where you’re coming from and that’s why when I customized/personalized my Greet Box plugin – I used expressions such as – “I’d love it if you’d subscribe…” and things like that.
People are gonna’ feel free to do something regardless of whether you tell them or not.
As for telling my readers to feel free to comment – Hell no! I’m gonna TELL them that they better comment or else…hahaha Kidding of course.
I think the most important thing to remember is if you’re gonna’ ask someone for help or advice or whatever – just be courteous and polite – oh, and also think of why they actually should.
Anyways – feel free to reply to my comment ;).
@Shonali I do agree! Feel free is going to drive me nuts now when I see it.
@DanielleSherman Did you really? Oh, how KEWL! I love that!
Not to continue beating this poor dead horse when the world is moving on, but I had to follow up to let you know that I noticed yesterday, after consciously trying to excise “feel free to” from my writing, my emails seemed tighter and more concise. My comments? Now that’s another story…
@jodeehammond Having talked with you and seen your work, I know how polite you are (and I don’t remember you asking me to feel free to do anything :)). But I do think a concrete ask at the end – “would you mind doing XYZ” would be so much more effective, don’t you?
And for the record, there are way too many publicists using “feel free” at the ends of their pitches. Gah.
@ginidietrich This is the shortest comment I’ve ever read. Now please feel free to go comment on 10 posts here, preferably from 2009. :p
@HowieSPM That’s one of the things I learned when I was in my publicist stage, though. Especially if I didn’t know someone, I’d just come out and ask politely. If they said no, fine. But people usually prefer to be asked outright than all the beating around the bush, I think. @BethHarte
@BethHarte Exactly – you’d never proffer it to start out with!
OK – Fall it is, then. I’ll hold you to it :)
Shonali, I enjoyed this post. I admit that I’m a user of the “feel free” phrase. I tend to use it at the end of emails to suggest people follow up with me via email or phone. I thought it was the polite way to have them call me if they want/need at their convenience. Your examples are great alternatives, and your call to action at the end of the post is a model for your readers.
As PR professionals, we should understand that how we ask for something matters, and we should know how to do so effectively…and free of corporate jargon. The question form, such as would you consider, also prompts a response. Readers don’t feel obligated to respond to the “feel free” phrase.
Thanks for pointing out its flaws and providing us with tips on how to receive responses. I’ll definitely take this into consideration in my emails now.
I love your rant posts! Feel free to tell me this is the shortest comment you’ve ever read.
@HowieSPM @Shonali True that! Howie, feel free to drop by *my* blog now to comment. Ha, ha. ;-)
@BethHarte @Shonali I also think it has to do with a relationship someone has. If it is a good relationship you will just ask out right. The weaker the bond or connection or friendship the more likely to beat around the bush.
We all have pet peeves like this. We all have a friend or three that always ask for something round about like it’s a game or they make out but want you to feel its for your best interest or gain vs theirs.
But this specific play of words is very disingenuous and often when it is said to me…I don’t ‘feel free’ to help. LOL
I think I use it more when someone asks me a question… For example, if someone says “Can I pass your resume along?” I would say “Sure, feel free.” Or, “Can I call you about X?” I might just say it. But I would NEVER presume to say it first. In fact, it never crossed my mind until I read your post.
I would LOVE to make it to DC to see you. We have been talking about it for way too long! I am a fall kinda gal…maybe we can plan for October or November? ;-)
@BethHarte LOL! Now, if someone were to say that, for instance, “Feel free to share this for $100…” why, I might think about it! Actually, no, I wouldn’t.
Has it really been stricken from your vocab, Beth? How kewl! I must say, though, you have never asked me to “feel free” to do something. And you should paddle me if I ever use that phrase with you.
Um… when are you coming to DC for that date we never had?
In the future I will remember to never say “feel free” to do X, Y, Z, Shonali…but “feel $100” to do X, Y, Z. Hey, free can equal cheap, too, right? I am going to charge! ;-)
Seriously, I have a habit of saying “feel free.” But it has now been stricken from my vocabulary!
@DanielleSherman Let’s hope it doesn’t paralyze your writing. :) And now that you mention it, “don’t hesitate to…” also drives me nuts. Because no, I *won’t* hesitate to do something if I want to! Why would the writer even allude to the fact that I might?
The problem, of course, is that most people don’t think of how these phrases come across, they’ve become so used to using them. I’m probably in the minority in the way I react to them, but I just think that if people put more thought into the actual meaning of the words they write, they might write better. And sound more human, to boot.
@ShakirahDawud Now I have a picture in MY head of rooting around in the $1 bin! Love it.
Ah…guilty as charged! I usually use it to replace “don’t hesitate to,” which I find to be sort of negatively tinged (seeing that “don’t” sitting there in the middle of the sentence seems to send my brain in an unintended direction).
You’re right, of course, but so many of these things we write are (or can easily become) annoying office jargon. Thanks for calling it out — now I just hope it doesn’t paralyze my writing when I start closing a message and am looking for something to say to tie it all up and realize I can’t use “feel free to…”
Yeah… it’s practically a matter of pride for me to sound original in print and in person, but I’ve never really thought about “feel free,” although I do frequently get an odd image of someone picking my brain, or worse, the vice versa. When I’m using corporate speak, it’s in a form or when I’m being humorously pretentious.
In an effort to be nonchalant about things that actually mean a lot to us we often root around furtively in the 10 for $1 bin for phrases like these, only to end up sounding like we did just that. :)
Yeah… when I use corporate-speak, it’s usually when I’m being humorously pretentious. It’s a matter of pride for me to sound original, lol. I’ve never really thought about “feel free,” although I also get an odd picture of someone picking my brain. And you’re right, we are all free to do as we please, aren’t we?
In an effort to be casually receptive or casually self-deprecating, or friendly and nonchalant about something that actually means a lot to us, we reach for 10 for $1 phrases we see floating everywhere, only to end up sounding like we did just that.
@colbcox Seriously! Just get to the point already, is what I feel like saying. They’re no better than those terrible pitches we get that ramble on and on and on and on…
@annbevans Well, YOU can pick my brain any time… because you always let me pick yours as well! That’s the other thing I don’t get. People want someone’s advice. Great, and it makes one feel good. But how about reciprocating?
I was about to call you and ask you if I could pick your brain. I will now invent a new way to ask my question! :)
A great shower usually makes me feel free. ;)
Great post Shonali!!
I think a lot of people are stuck in their “Corporate BS” world or are at least drinking way too much of the “Corporate Cool-Aid”. People are always so worried about making sure they don’t ruffle any feathers with how they approach things. As you have pointed out, you may ruffle more feathers be beating around the bush. Again, great advice and all you really need to do is be concise and honest when asking for help. As Nike said, Just Do-It, so why are people so scared to just come out and ask the darn question?