07/27/2012 02:12 pm ET

I'll Let You Know

"Let's keep in touch." "We'll figure something out." "I might be able to." "This week is kind of tough!" And my personal favorite, "I'll let you know."

Sometimes it's genuine! Scenario: It's Friday afternoon and you're working a nine-hour day at the office. You look at your desk, and a huge pile of paper work magically materializes with a note from your boss saying, "I need these done by the end of the day." You start sweating and suddenly remember your happy hour plans with your brother, who you haven't seen in a while. He texts you to ask if you're still on for 5 p.m., and you reasonably answer, "I have to let you know."

A solid excuse for whipping out this phrase.

However, sometimes it's not so genuine. Scenario: Your friend is nervous about something (a presentation at work, or perhaps just a personal problem), and asks you if you're free for dinner to talk. You check your calendar and remember that it's Wednesday, the day that cute guy you met last weekend said he "might" be free for a drink "at some point" that evening. You pick up your phone and text your friend, "I'll let you know, hun!"

It's not that you don't want to see your friend (or maybe in some cases it is), it's just that you are drawn in by the possibility that you can do something better. And the kicker is, you're drawn in by someone who is doing the exactly same thing to you! It becomes a vicious cycle.
"I'll let you know." It's these four words that instantly let you off the hook. They allow you make plans while giving you the flexibility of cancelling, should something better come along. They allow you to seem friendly and approachable, all while adding an air of mystery and intrigue. Say them just enough, and you'll be the man of the hour if you actually do show up. Say them too much, and people will likely chalk you up to a lost cause and forget your number.

I've had it said to me a lot, and I can admit to spitting out this non-committal phrase myself from time to time. From my experience, it makes the person you're doing it to feel like a consolation prize. I said a similar phrase to a friend of mine once, who was trying to lock me down for dinner plans one night, and she answered with, "Why don't we just make plans for another day then?"At first, I felt annoyed by her retort but then I realized she was right for calling me out on my indecisiveness, and locked plans down with her for a few days later.

We all do it, and it seems innocent. But constantly saying "maybe" to plans can make you look flighty and indecisive. Or worse, it can make the people you do care about stop asking you to get together at all. It's the "hanging- out" version of "crying wolf," and it makes you seem less dependable in the long run.