Can’t means I won’t

Sales Tip 338
Can’t Means I Won’t

There is a distinction between I can’t and I won’t. When somebody “can’t” do something, it’s because he or she lacks the skill to do it. When somebody “won’t” do something, it’s because he or she lacks the will to do it.

Here’s a basic example:

  • “I can’t do this job” means you currently lack the skills to accomplish the task.
  • “I won’t do this job” means you’ve decided not to accomplish the task, even though you could if you wanted to.

Though that distinction seems pretty clear, people who don’t have the will often say “I can’t” when they mean “I won’t.”

  • “I can’t make 30 cold calls every morning.”

They substitute “I can’t” for “I won’t” because it lets them off the hook. Because the activity is something they “can’t” do, they can’t reasonably be expected to do it. Their failure is therefore not really their fault. (Oh, really?)

By contrast, the winners in the world are more precise. They use “I can’t” as a signal that they need to improve a skill, and they use “I won’t” as a statement that they’ve made a decision.

  • “I can’t understand why customers aren’t buying, so I’m going to ask them what I’m doing wrong.”

By using “I can’t” and “I won’t” appropriately, winners take responsibility for their actions rather than making excuses. That’s a major reason they’re so successful.


The [email protected]

Author/Motivational Speaker/Professional Sales Trainer