You sound ridiculous. You just don’t know it.
Word choice matters. We spend countless hours in meetings with colleagues discussing big, important ideas. We write hundreds of documents making our case for one initiative or another. We write thousands of emails. We give dozens of presentations. And you know what? We sound ridiculous. Using buzzwords can make us sound like hypereducated idiots who swallowed a thesaurus.
In our efforts to sound more intelligent and compelling, we use big words and bigger phrases we hear other smart and compelling people use. The problem is, those words and phrases didn’t mean anything in the first place. By adopting those vapid phrases as our own, we’re saying things that are just as meaningless as the first person who uttered them.
Stop. Please stop.
Speak plainly. Speak simply. Speak directly.
Doing otherwise is a disservice to you and your audience. There are two reasons you’re likely using these words and phrases: either you’re using them as verbal pauses (instead of “um” and “uh”) or you think they sound really intelligent. If it’s the former, get comfortable with silence and simply collect your thoughts. If it’s the latter, it’s having the opposite effect but your coworkers are too polite to tell you so.
Here are a few of my (least) favorite ridiculous words and phrases:
Dumb phrase #1: “Things of that nature”
Used as: “I was reading a blog and things of that nature.”
Why it’s dumb: It’s lazy. It comes off as “…and some other stuff I’m too lazy to think about or articulate”
Use instead: Either offer a few other examples of those “things” or don’t say it at all.
Dumb phrase #2: “At the end of the day”
Used as: “At the end of the day, the blog post is getting written.”
Why it’s dumb: All days end. We know you mean “regardless of all this other stuff, the big conclusion is…”
Use instead: Again, don’t say it or use something like “despite,” “in spite of,” or “no matter what.” The only time you should use this phrase is when you’re describing something like the sunset pictured above.
Dumb phrase #3: “Leverage [anything]”
Used as: “We should leverage our computers to write blog posts that leverage our knowledge.”
Why it’s dumb: Unless you’re in high finance conducting a buyout where you borrow money to do so or you’re in construction and you’re using a physical lever to move something, it’s a lazy word.
Use instead: A correct verb like “use,” “rely,” “draw upon,” etc. As in “We should use our computers to write blog posts that demonstrate our knowledge.” Much cleaner and more direct that way.
Dumb phrase #4: “Results-oriented”
Used as: “I’m a results-oriented job seeker who is updating his LinkedIn profile so it sounds fancy to recruiters.”
Why it’s dumb: One would hope all employees (especially job seekers) are results-oriented. Heck, I’d prefer someone who isn’t only oriented on results but who instead delivers results. This one goes without saying. Go do a search on LinkedIn for the phrase and be prepared to be shocked and appalled.
Use instead: “I’m a job seeker who has delivered/created/etc. over $x in actual results for my prior organization.” Now that will get someone’s attention.
Dumb phrase #5:”Win-win”
Used as: “Reading the blog post was a win-win for everyone because I learned some dumb phrases and the blogger got some traffic.”
Why it’s dumb: Say it. Just say the phrase and bask in its dumbness. I shouldn’t even have to explain.
Use instead: “This approach has the following benefits for everyone involved: [enumerate benefits].”
I’ll confess I occasionally have one of these terms spew forth from my cakehole and enter my writing but I try to be diligent about stamping them out. I’d invite you to do the same. Be more precise in your language. Demonstrate you’ve put thought into your words. Otherwise you end up sounding like this:
“At the end of the day, people will see us as more results-oriented if we leverage what we learned in this blog post because doing so will create a win-win for everyone because it will help us write better documents and things of that nature.”
Barf. Clean it up (your language, not the barf).
A version of this article first appeared on Thought Leaders LLC.
This article first appeared on Ragan.com in Aug. 2014.