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Clichès? Avoid them Like the Plague!

This recent blog on that popular business cliché, ‘going forward’ is worth looking at. Here’s the link.

Cliches are everywhere. The most popular and successful ones find their way into everyday speech with dismaying ease. I come across them all the time when I’m working with people on our communication skills or our effective business writing courses.

So why do we find ourselves using them so often? Here are three possible reasons.

  1. We want to sound well-informed and professional. Every trade has its own set of jargon terms, and they can work very well as a kind of workplace shorthand between those in the know. But it’s crucial to be aware of the distinction between informative language and meaningless, buzzphrase-heavy verbiage.

    For instance, in a 2010 Foreign and Commonwealth Office job advert for the post of ‘reputation manager’, one of the duties was described as the ‘maintenance and development of job narrative around FCO and its value proposition, using insights from research and evaluation as well as knowledge of the evolving FCO strategy to inform resonant messaging.’

    Let’s hope the potential applicants knew what that sentence meant!

  2. We want to fit in with everyone else (especially the boss). The more you’re exposed to cliches, the more likely you are to use them. Cliched language is, unfortunately, extremely infectious.

    On a writing course last year I found that all the delegates were talking about having a ‘deep dive’ (or a thorough investigation) into various workplace issues. It turned out that their new boss was very fond of the phrase. And, consciously or not, every member of her team had adopted it!

  3. We want to avoid talking directly about unpalatable truths. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of this about at the moment. I recently overheard a civil servant talk about the effect of budgetary cuts on her department and of the overwhelming need to shed its ‘low-hanging fruit’ (i.e. the more easily dispensable personnel).

On a lighter note, another trainee talked about an international conference call in which a British, London–based boss decided to broach a topic that nobody else on the team had dared to mention. ‘Listen everybody’, he began. ‘There’s an elephant in the room.’ His colleagues in Brussels and Tokyo, who weren’t familiar with the cliché, were utterly mystified by this zoological turn of events.

Another possibility, of course, is that we use them because we aren’t thinking at all. As we say to our trainees, it’s vital to think before you open your mouth or apply your fingertips to the keyboard.

Remember that the clichés we elect to use may contribute to the impression we make on our audience. It’s all too easy to slip from the idiomatic to the idiotic. As an illustration, here’s a clip of the British Apprentice candidate Jim Eastwood attempting to talk about himself without using clichés…

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