9 Business Clichés to Retire Forever
BY Jeff Haden
They've been used, misused, and abused. It's time to eliminate these buzz phrases from your speech entirely.
We all over-use certain words and phrases. (Me included: I'm guilty of slipping "well" into sentences way too often.)
That's natural, but if you're hoping to communicate effectively--or be taken seriously--that's also a real problem.
Once upon a time a network engineer was in a meeting. Responding to a question he said, "I don't think we have sufficient bandwidth to transfer that much data."
A manufacturing manager walked out of the meeting and thought, "Huh. Bandwidth. That's a pretty cool word."
A day later the manager was in another meeting and, flexing a little I'm-in-the-know-and-you-aren't muscle, said, "Are we sure we have sufficient bandwidth to pull this project together on time?" Everyone was jealous.
Then, months later in a land far far away, a salesman (salesman because it's always guys who do this) said to another salesman, "I won't be able to meet with you until next week. I'm really busy and just don't have the bandwidth now."
And just like that--except to the people who were using it correctly all along--the word "bandwidth" had forever lost its original meaning.
Now, when it pops up in everyday business conversation, it just sounds, well, pretentious.
Let's make sure that doesn't happen to you.
Here are some commonly overused words and phrases you should retire from your vocabulary:
1. "Expect the unexpected"
Forget the logic issue; how can I expect something I am not able to expect? What employees hear you say is, "I expect this to go well. If it doesn't it's because you weren't sufficiently prepared or didn't react quickly enough... either way it's all on you because hey, I told you to expect the unexpected."
Here's a better approach. Say, "If something happens we didn't plan for, here are steps to take. If you run into something you aren't sure how to deal with, call me and we'll figure it out together."
Instead of stating a platitude, provide a framework for how decisions will be made and problems will be overcome.
We're all striving to delight customers, right? So, when you ask a server for your dressing on the side, does "no problem" make you feel delighted... or like you're kind of a pain but the server is gracious enough to overlook it?
Your customers and employees feel the same way when you say, "No problem," to their requests.
4. "At the end of the day"
"At the end of the day" probably started out as a different way of saying, "in summary." Now it's filler, like, "um," and "you know," and, well, "well."
Whenever you're tempted to start a sentence with, "At the end of the day..." just skip ahead and start with your point instead.
Then maybe we'll actually pay attention your point.
Yes, digital cameras were a disruptive technology. Ask companies like Kodak and Fuji. DVRs were a disruptive technology. Ask anyone who once made VCRs.
That new menu you created, or new system of checkout, or new way to manage customer accounts? Those are not disruptive: At worst they're merely different, at best somewhat innovative.
Use the word disruptive to describe your own products or services and you purchase a one-way ticket to the Land of Hype--a place where everyone speaks and no one listens.
Saying "transparent" is like saying, "If I'm honest..." The listener thinks, "Okay, now you're going to be honest... but sometimes you're not...?"
You either are transparent or you're not. If you are, it goes without saying. People already know.
And if you're not, you might also be trying to...
7. "Manage expectations"
Of course you would never tell a customer you're going to manage their expectations, but when you tell employees to manage someone else's expectations, in a way you're telling them to, even if ever so slightly, be manipulative or sly or in some way less than truthful.
Then you've stepped onto, well, another term that could be on the list: A slippery slope.
Why not set and then try to meet expectations? That's a lot better than "managing" them.
8. "Give 120%"
I know; this one is just a way of indicating extra effort is required. But what kind of effort? What do you want me to do more of? What do you want me to do faster, or cheaper, or better?
Explain the situation. Tell me why something is critical or important. Then tell me what I need to do to overcome the problem or meet the challenge.
I won't work hard for a platitude, but I will work hard when I understand the importance of my effort.
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. @jeff_haden