I wrote about this love affair, and how it was cultivated, several years ago on Joyful Jubilant Learning (JJL). And it still gives me great pleasure to have my friends reach for the dictionary when I ask them to quit acting insouciantly.
The funny thing is, when it comes to being a business leader, I feel quite differently about words and how I use them to communicate. It’s a whole different ballgame.
I found that out pretty early in my career, when my boss at the time decided to challenge me on my dictionary prowess. As I noted in that JJL piece,
…..he once asked my about my views on a business decision we needed to make. I replied, “there seems to be a dichotomy of opinions on this”, to which he asked his usual “what do you mean?” After I said, “well, there are two different ways folks are looking at this” he retorted “so my boy, why didn’t you just say so!”
Needless to say, I haven’t said the word “dichotomy” since, unless I was telling this story. That’s how much it stuck with me.
What I’ve learned is that there’s much more directness and economy needed in business communication. Less is usually more. There’s not much room for nuance, or expansive prose.
I call it “no nonsense communication“.
There are five types of words in particular that I believe a good leader must avoid to stay in “no nonsense” mode:
- “Negation Words” – These are those lovely conjunctions that can, in one fell swoop, cancel out whatever you put before it. The poster child word in this instance is “but“. I wrote a whole post about the problems with that one. In a nutshell, they can be morale killers. (Yes, one little word)
- “Half-heart Words“ – The first word in line here is “hope“. Don’t misunderstand me – hope is a very good word. It’s just not that helpful in the boardroom. See my Leadership Battles post for my rationale. Here’s another one, when used in this context – “we should do this”. I have found that “should” just doesn’t carry enough urgency if you really want the “this” to get done – so I usually go with “will“, or “must“, or even “need to“.
- “Run to the Dictionary Words” – See the “dichotomy” story above. Save the verbosity for other occasions. Like blog posts. 🙂
- “Absolute words” – One of my favorite “half-fullisms” is “stay away from absolutes, absolutely“. It’s really practicing the art of the possible mixed with the realization that there are exceptions to every rule, so words like “can’t“, “always“, and “never” are out of the mix.
- “Bad Emphasis words” – I ranted a teeny bit on this one a few years ago. Here is what I mean by this, taken from that post: “a linguistic device that now leaves me squirming every time I hear it – the use of an emphatic word or phrase (or from a usage point of view, an interjection of some kind) in front of a statement that doesn’t really need emphasis”.
Of course, I have another learning-the-hard-way story on that last one (from that very same piece):
The problem with using [bad emphasis] was shown to me very directly by one of my bosses – he had asked me about my opinion on something, and I said “honestly sir, I think we need to go in such-and-such a direction“, to which he replied, “HONESTLY? What do you think we’re running around here, a boy scout troop”?
Point taken. I should be speaking honestly EVERY time. I don’t need to telegraph it.
That’s a perfect example of “no nonsense”. Keep these 5 word types out of your business vocabulary and you’ll get better results.