Years ago I worked for the poster child of buzzwords.
He loved using terms like “cones of precision” and “silos” and “drill down” and… let’s just stop there. (He also bought one of the first Palm Pilots, which meant a roomful of people often sat waiting while he laboriously entered stuff on his calendar. Yep, he was that guy.)
One of my colleagues maintained a running list of this guy’s buzzwords. Whenever he whipped out his pad to jot down a new one, two things happened: (1) Our manager looked smug because he thought he had just said something so insightful my colleague wanted to capture it for posterity, and (2) the rest of us tried not to laugh because we knew what was really going on.
Unfortunately, Palm Pilot aside, we all have a little of that guy in us. We use the same words too often. Or we use irritating speech patterns. Or we simply fall in love with certain expressions. When we do, whatever we hoped to say gets lost in the noise of clichés or continual repetitions.
See whether you’re guilty of any of these:
1. The Double Name: Using a person’s name twice (worst case using your own name twice) in a sentence to justify unusual or unacceptable behavior.
Typical usage: “What can I say?” Shrug. “That’s just Joe being Joe.” (Worse, “Hey, that’s just me being me.”)
Whenever you use the double name you’re actually excusing behavior you would not tolerate from someone else.
And everyone knows it.
2. The Fake Agreement: Pretending to agree while expressing the opposite point of view.
Typical usage: “I’m with you, but I just don’t think we should take on that project.”
In reality you aren’t really with me, because then you would agree with what I’m saying. (Plus beginning a sentence with something like, “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!
The Unsupported Closure is the go-to move for people who want something a certain way and cannot or do not feel like explaining why. Whenever you feel one coming on, take a deep breath and start over; otherwise you’ll spout inane platitudes instead of objective reasons that might actually help your employees get behind your decision.
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 you really 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, 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 really aren’t sure and 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 and I walk in your store and want to buy a shirt…”
You can get away with this one occasionally, but using it more than that is really irritating.
Don’t believe me? Let’s say I’m the average reader and I know someone who uses the First Person Theoretical to pretend he’s putting himself in another person’s shoes. And let’s say I’m thinking it’s really irritating. And let’s say I’m…
Let’s just say I’m thinking we should move on.
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6. The Favorite Phrase: Using a phrase so often that word is all anyone can hear.
Typical usage: Any phrase that gets hammered to death. Here’s an example.
I knew someone who would shoehorn a random “in other words,” “as it relates to,” or “in general,” into every sentence. Often he could cram all three into the same sentence multiple times.
Fall in love with a word or expression and not only do other people tire of it, they’ll start to hear nothing else. Then whatever you hoped to get across gets lost as they think, “Oh, jeez, for once could he leave out the ‘that’s neither here nor there'”?
Ask someone if you overuse a word, phrase, or figure of speech. At first they’ll look uncomfortable and try to avoid answering. Insist.
Eventually they’ll tell you, and I guarantee you’ll never do it again. Trust me: Been there, been told that.
A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.