Think back to your last meeting, presentation, or business discussion. Was a large part of what you said meaningless and unnecessary? Chances are, the answer is yes. That’s the word from Bart Egnal, CEO of The Humphrey Group, which helps build leadership communication skills. His new book, Leading Through Language, is designed to help all leaders eliminate excess verbiage, and use clear and concise language that doesn’t obscure what they mean to say.
As part of that effort, he’s created a list of “unnecessary add-on” phrases that are painfully common in today’s business conversations. He defines the unnecessary add-on as, “a phrase or expression tacked on to the beginning or end of a sentence. It serves little purpose aside from making the sentence more cumbersome, baffling, and yet seemingly more impressive-sounding.”
Smart leaders who actually have something to say should make an effort to eliminate these phrases. “Leaders skip unnecessary add-ons for the simple reason that these words fail to add any meaning,” Egnal writes. “They know that their ideas are what matter, and attaching additional language only diminishes the strength of those ideas.”
That’s a great explanation of why it’s worth the effort to stop yourself if you ever find you’re about to start a sentence with any of this nonsensical verbiage. Egnal has identified 24 of them and even laid them out in a grid so you can play Bingo with them at your next meeting. You can find the Unnecessary Add-On Bingo board in Chapter 4 of his book. Here are my favorite candidates for immediate elimination:
1. “At the end of the day…”
This is among the most universally hated pieces of business jargon, and you can’t escape it. It seems to come up, usually more than once, in every single business discussion.
2. “The bottom line is…”
Almost as common as “at the end of the day,” with the same unneeded meaning.
3. “Net net…”
Unless you’re talking about investing and literally mean that you’re establishing the value of a company based on its current assets alone, this phrase is just as meaningless as the first two.
4. “Let’s net it out…”
This too has a specific literal meaning–earnings after taxes and other costs have been paid. If that’s not what you’re saying, don’t use this phrase.
4. “…on a go-forward basis.”
At least it’s comforting to know we’re not planning to go backwards.
5. “To be honest with you…”
Don’t ever use this phrase or people may think everything you said before was a lie.
6. “To make a long story short…”
It’s probably too late.
7. “At this moment in time…”
If you need to let people know something is happening now, say “now.”
8. “The reality is…”
So everything you said before this was fantasy?
9. “If you really think about it…”
In other words, your listeners are brainless and can’t think things through for themselves.
10. “With all due respect…”
This phrase is worse than meaningless, it’s insulting. It’s invariably a precursor to saying that someone else is dead wrong–and thus not worthy of much respect.
11. “The fact of the matter is…”
Apparently, nothing you said before this statement was factual.
12. “To boil it down…”
This is the same idea as making a “long story short.” And it’s just as unlikely to actually happen.
13. “It is what it is.”
If you mean, “This can’t be changed,” then say that. On the other hand, use this phrase if you want to sound like Gertrude Stein.
14. “It all adds up to…”
If you’re totaling a column of numbers, then use this phrase. But if you’re presenting a conclusion, just present it without the meaningless intro.
Cutting these useless phrases out of your spoken and written communications will make what you say more concise, easier to understand, and more likely to resonate with your audience. At the end of the day, that’s the bottom line.
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