How to respond to ‘I’ve been busy’ with something meaningful (2024)

How to respond to ‘I’ve been busy’ with something meaningful (2)

You’re hoping to catch up with a friend for dinner after work. You send a text asking how their week has been, or what you have been up to. You get the answer ‘I’ve been busy’. Maybe it’s happened a few times.

You aren’t alone if you’ve been on the receiving end of someone else’s stress. You might even catch yourself using the word ‘busy’ to others, more often than you’d like.

The words ‘Yeah, good, been busy’ have tumbled out of my mouth as I felt myself trying to pull them back in. Sometimes people might be in a really stressful place, not able to share any attention with others. Othertimes perhaps it’s a default answer that we rely on without thinking too much.

Regardless of the motivation, it can suck if it’s used as a conversation stopper. Especially if it’s happened a few times and one person feels vulnerable asking anything else.

Why is busy one of the first words we scramble to in times of stress?

Laundry piling up, to-do list ballooning and errands we have to run. It’s easy to see the many ways we can fill our lives up with tasks that feel important. However these tasks often lack true blissful joy and can cause more stress than they’re worth. There are many reasons for a temporary retraction in a relationship masked by ‘I’ve been busy…’. And maybe they’ve been busy, but it shouldn’t be a conversation stopper.

Understanding why someone’s saying their busy, and what to respond when someone says they’ve been busy at work (or busy in general) will help form new conversational habits and better connections.

There’s times when we’ve let our cup run empty, we have no fuel left in the tank, and need to retreat and refuel. That often shows up in messages being left unread, ignored or blasé responses. If you suspect that’s the case, perhaps offer (verbally) or allow (mentally) the person some space. Trust they’ll reach back out when they have something to give.

This can happen during major life changes like a physical illness, a mental health challenge, a relationship change or a new baby. Consider the other aspects going on in this person’s life and acknowledge or accept that right now — they have other priorities. That concept will sit different with everyone, so until you adopt this mindset you’ll know how you feel in the situation where you might not be a priority.

If that is the case, try extend empathy here and think about what you’d want if the situation was reversed. Though it’s totally understandable if taking a back seat is hurtful or unacceptable, depending on the closeness of the relationship.

Ideally how we spend most of our time should consist of active, intentional choices. Decisions that consider what we’re responsible for, realistically can achieve and what is most enjoyable and important for our well being. So why do we keep saying, and feeling like ‘were so busy’? Consider the responsibilities in this person’s life and try empower them to make choices with their time that they want to do. Suggest they pick a time and place and activity that suits them.

Awkward, but true. There is a chance this person is acting avoidant which is a common behavioural style (hello, anxious attacher here!). If this behaviour continues, you could communicate in a non-violent way and try understand if there’s anything that need clearing up. Offering a safe space to share may feel uncomfortable at the beginning, but I promise more often than not, you’ll leave feeling more connected.

‘Busy’ is used as a badge of honour when recounting how we spend our time. But ‘Busy’ is a connection blocker. Paying attention to when ‘busy’ is given as a response, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s an automatic response we learn in a society that has valued ‘the hustle’. Perhaps people feel the need to be constantly available and responsive. Instant messaging and persistent green lights flashing indicating that someone’s ‘online’ don’t help in the immediacy expectations, either.

Try communicating in a way that demonstrates you don’t expect an immediate response, that they can take the time to come back with a thoughtful update on how they are really doing.

Sad, but perhaps true. Maybe they hate yoga, or perhaps that relationship has fallen away over time.

There are relationships and stages of life where for some reason, people just slowly drop off. If this is the case, be kind to yourself and see it as part of a journey. Try view the space left as a spot for someone new who will enjoy your company and time.

Whilst also acknowledging that this sucks, hurts and it’s totally normal to feel yuck if this actually is the case. But don’t give up until you’ve tried a few of the suggestions above.


  • Creating an alternate response by being specific with open ended questions

Busy is generic. It doesn’t describe or explain anything anyway, so try specifically asking open-ended questions around activities or areas you think might be relevant. “How are you? What are you currently reading? What’s exciting you about that new strategy at work? Who are the kids enjoying hanging out with right now?” . This requires more active conversation on your end, but with practice becomes simple.

An added bonus of the specific response is it opens the conversation up wider. You may find a common interest, experience or lead onto another topic when ‘busy’ can often shut conversation down.

  • Allowing and celebrating honesty in a declined invitation

Instead of saying ‘we’re too busy’ to go to an event, wouldn’t you feel better if the person responded something like: ‘I am in much need of a night home alone relaxing so I can’t attend’? By giving ourselves permission to be more open and honest about what we need, hopefully it gives others permission to do the same. Adopting new language can demonstrate via actions and lead others to do the same by example. Bonus, no more fake busy.

  • Be realistic in what you can control and apply some self-compassion.

Identify what is truly important to you, bin the rest. It’s unrealistic to expect high performance in every area in your life, so being realistic in the important areas can help release some of the expectation and perfectionism we place on ourselves. The same goes with people.

Maybe we can maintain quality connections with 3, 5 or 10 people close to us whilst nurturing a family and building a career. If you are finding it tough to have meaningful interactions with so many people, focus on the ones you can for now. Applying self-compassion and empathy towards yourself for this is important, as you don’t need ot beat yourself up for not being an active driver of a myraid of relationships.

Listen generously when the other is talking

Generous listening seems like a simple act but when in the moment of an interaction that starts with ‘I’m so busy’ it can seem like a race to the end of the conversation. Listen between the lines, can you pick up on experiences subtly mentioned? If you’re applying openness and intention to how we response to others, we can hope to receive the same back.

If one has no time, one has also lost oneself. Distracted by the obligations of everyday activities, we are no longer aware of ourselves… Everything is done all at once, faster and faster, yet no personal balance or meaning can be found. This implies the loss of contact with one’s own self. We also no longer feel “at home” with ourselves and find it difficult to persist in any given activity because we are available at every moment. — Marc Whittman

I’m not answering ‘busy’ when people ask how I’ve been anymore. And when others do, I’ll try apply compassion, give space, consider their priorities or try another angle.

For us, let’s choose our words carefully. Krista Tippet from On Being boldy states:

Let’s stop the automatic busy-ness and be more open, specific and intentional with our responses. Hopefully, in turn we can shape a society that values a slower pace than the one we’ve built today.


How to respond to ‘I’ve been busy’ with something meaningful (2024)


How do you respond to you've been busy? ›

Oh that's okay, we'll find another time.” “No worries, maybe we can go later.” “You know, I actually had something come up too so it's okay.”

How to respond when he says he was busy? ›

11 Ways To Respond When He Says He's Busy
  1. Give him some time and message again. ...
  2. Go straight to the point. ...
  3. Ask him to tell you about his busy schedule. ...
  4. Don't take your revenge and delay in responding. ...
  5. Let him know you're also busy. ...
  6. Ask him if he's okay with a short call. ...
  7. Volunteer to help with some of his work.

How do you say sorry when someone is busy? ›

You want to say: “I'm sorry to bother you.” Instead, say: “I know how busy you are, but I'd love your feedback on something. Is now a good time?” We're all busy, and it's good to be mindful of that.

When a guy says he's been busy? ›

So more often than not: When a guy says he's too busy, he's probably letting you know that he isn't that much into you, and he is giving you time and space or is slowly vanishing so that you don't get the wrong idea that things are progressing.

How do you respond to a busy person in an email? ›

10 Easy Ways To Get Busy People To Respond To Your Email
  1. Write a catchy title.
  2. Mention something you have in common.
  3. Reference positive, recent news connected with the person.
  4. Be concise, and write short paragraphs.
  5. Use bullet points.
  6. Don't leave room for basic questions.
  7. Make “the ask.”
  8. Be kind.
Mar 8, 2017

What to text when he is too busy? ›

Romantic Messages To Let Him Know You Care
  • 'I hope you're having a great day. And I hope this message only makes it better! '
  • 'I know you're busy, but I just wanted to say I love you. '
  • 'You're my favourite person in the entire world. '
  • 'Know that I won't give up, no matter what happens. '

When a guy is interested but busy? ›

When a guy is busy but still interested, he'll find ways to keep the connection alive, even if it's through small gestures. These little acts of thoughtfulness show that you're on his mind and that he values the relationship, even when he doesn't have much time to spare.

How do you say sorry in the most meaningful way? ›

Aaron Lazare, an apology expert and former chancellor and dean of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, a good apology has four elements:
  1. Acknowledge the offense. ...
  2. Explain what happened. ...
  3. Express remorse. ...
  4. Offer to make amends.
Apr 13, 2021

How do you say sorry in a smooth way? ›

The 8 tips below will help you craft a natural, heartfelt apology to anyone in your life.
  1. Understand why you're apologizing. ...
  2. Start with 'I'm sorry.' ...
  3. Take responsibility for your actions. ...
  4. Focus on the impact of your actions — not your intent. ...
  5. Take steps to make amends. ...
  6. Don't overdo it. ...
  7. Ask for forgiveness.
Jul 15, 2021

How do you know if a busy man likes you through text? ›

How Guys Text When They Like You
  1. He Texts Back Immediately.
  2. He Wishes You Weren't Just Texting.
  3. He Talks About Things You Both Would Be Doing If He Was There.
  4. He Lets You Know If He Can't Text Back Right Now.
  5. He Often Uses Flirty Emojis.
  6. He Likes Hearing Your Stories.
  7. He Wants To Know More About You.
  8. He Writes You Long Texts.
Jul 19, 2023

How often should a busy guy text you? ›

It's going to vary from guy to guy. Some guys are more talkative than others. Still, a few text messages a day are proof that he likes you. You should look for three to five messages a day, unless you strike up a conversation, then look for more.

What is a better way to say I was busy? ›

Example: She's a bit occupied today dealing with new staff. Example: He's slightly overstretched at the moment. Example: She's quite over-extended in this particular role. Example: We're rather overloaded with all these new cases.

What to say when someone says they have a lot going on? ›

"It sounds like you're dealing with a lot at the moment" "I'm really sorry to hear that you're feeling like this right now" "I'm really glad you're sharing this with me"

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