OWNER'S MANUAL

6 Phrases You Should Never Say Again

Love catchy business speak? Before your next meeting or presentation, make sure you aren't guilty of one of these useless (& annoying) verbal tics.
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Years ago, I worked for a manager that was the poster child of buzzwords. He loved slipping “cones of precision” and “silos” and “drill down” and… well, let’s just stop there.

(Oh, he also bought one of the first Palm Pilots, so roomfuls of people often sat waiting while he laboriously entered timelines and schedules into his calendar. Yep, he was one of those.)

One of my colleagues maintained a running list of this manager’s buzzwords. If this colleague heard a new one, he pulled a small notepad out of his shirt pocket and wrote it down. Whenever he whipped out his pad two things happened: 1) the manager looked smug and proud because he thought he had just said something so insightful the supervisor wanted to capture for it for posterity, and 2) the rest of us tried not to laugh because we knew what was really going on.

Guess how productive those meetings were.

Unfortunately, we all have a little of that manager in us. We use the same words too often, or without noticing use irritating speech patterns, or simply fall in love with certain expressions. (I’m definitely guilty; I once carried on a passionate and all-too-public affair with “that’s neither here nor there.”) When we do, whatever we hoped to say gets lost.

See if you’re guilty of any of these:

1. The Double Name: Using a person’s name twice-- especially your own-- in the same sentence as a way to justify unusual or unacceptable behavior.

Typical usage: “What can I say? That’s just Joe being Joe.” (Or even worse, “What can I say? That’s just me being me.”)

Whenever you say a person’s name twice as a way to describe them you’re actually making an excuse for behavior you would never tolerate from someone else.

And everyone knows it.

2. The Fake Agreement: Pretendingto agree while expressing the opposite point of view.

Typical usage: “I can definitely see what you’re saying, but I just don’t think we should take on that project.”

In fact, you don’t really see what I’m saying because otherwise you would agree with what I’m saying. Beginning a sentence with, “I hear you…” is like a condescending pat on the head.

Don’t try to couch a different opinion inside a warm and fuzzy Fake Agreement. If you disagree, just say so professionally.

3. The Unsupported Closure: Ending a discussion or making a decision without backup or solid justification.

Typical usage: “At the end of the day, we’re here to sell products.”

Really? I had no idea we’re supposed to sell products!

Unsupported Closure is a go-to move for people who want something a certain way and don’t feel like, or can’t, explain why. Whenever you feel an, “At the end of the day…” coming on, take a deep breath and start over, otherwise you’ll spout inane platitudes instead of objective reasons that may actually help your employees get behind your decision.

Quick note: A Fake Agreement combines nicely with an Unjustified Closure: “I hear what you’re saying, but at the end of the day revenue concerns must come first.” Win-win!

4. The False Uncertainty: Pretending you’re not sure when, in fact, you are.

Typical usage: “You know, when I think about it I’m not so sure shutting down that facility isn’t the best option after all.”

Oh yes, you’re sure; you’re just trying to create buy-in or a sense of inclusion by pretending you still have an open mind… or you’re planting seeds for something you know you will eventually do.

Never say you aren’t sure unless you are truly willing to consider other viewpoints.

5. The First Person Theoretical: Pretending to be another person in order to explore different points of view.

Typical usage: “Let’s say I’m the average customer. I walk in your store. I want to buy a shirt...and so on."

You can get away with this occasionally, but more than once a year is really irritating.

Think about it. Let’s say I’m the average reader and I know someone who uses the First Person Theoretical to pretend they’re putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. And let’s say I’m thinking it’s really irritating. In fact, let’s say I’m thinking we can just move on.

6. The Favorite Word: Using a word so often that word is all anyone hears.

Typical usage: Simply pick a word and hammer it to death.

I had a boss who never met a sentence he couldn’t find a way to shoehorn “in other words,” “in general,” and “regarding” into. Often he could cram all three into the same sentence, sometimes multiple times. I kept track one time and counted thirty-seven “in other words” in a four-minute span.

Hey, I’m not proud. I’m also not worried about him reading this since he’s probably off somewhere clubbing baby seals.

When you fall in love with a word or expression, other people not only tire of it but they hear nothing else. Whatever you hoped to get across gets lost as people think, “Oh jeez, for once could he leave out the ‘that’s neither here nor there’”?

Ask someone if you overuse a word or phrase. At first they’ll look uncomfortable and try to avoid answering. Insist.

Eventually they’ll tell you, and I promise you’ll never use that word again.

Last updated: Jan 11, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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