Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 30;   July 27, 2005: Hurtful Clichés: II

Hurtful Clichés: II

by

Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or "Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that we use them without thinking. Here's Part II of a series exploring some of these clichés.
Too much time on his hands

The word cliché can have a negative connotation — it can mean trite, shopworn, or empty. But clichés are important in daily life. If every word we spoke had to be creative and original, we'd run out of energy much earlier in the day, and we'd misinterpret each other even more often than we do.

Still, clichés do have a dark side. The more hurtful of them can become so familiar that we use them too frequently, because we forget how much they can sting. Here's Part II of my little collection of hurtful clichés. See "Hurtful Clichés: I," Point Lookout for July 13, 2005, for more.

Am I clear?
Also: Are we clear? or, Clear?
Heard as: A command to say "Yes sir" or "Yes ma'm," as appropriate.
This is a question that really isn't a question. It's a threat. Threats have no place at work.
He's got (way) too much time on his hands
Also: Get a life
Heard as: What he has done is of no value.
This is an attack not only on the work that was done, but also on the wisdom of its author for having chosen to do that work. Raising questions about something so basic demeans the person as well, and erodes relationships.
What seems to be the problem?
Heard as: You think (incorrectly) that something is wrong.
Without actually conceding that there's a problem, the speaker is inquiring about the nature of the difficulty. Any progress begins with honoring your partner's perspective. Until your partner feels understood, you have little chance of moving forward.
Do you believe everything you hear?
Heard as: You're either stupid, or naïve, or maybe both.
Clichés make life
easier but we must
take care
Here the speaker uses a variant of the Straw Man rhetorical fallacy (see "Decision-Making and the Straw Man," Point Lookout for February 11, 2004) to ridicule the listeners' responses to what they heard.
Ridicule is toxic. There's no good way to gauge the gullibility of others, and it's usually irrelevant.
Can I make my point by asking myself a question and then answering it? Yes, absolutely.
Heard as: I can handle both sides of this conversation — your puny little mind is totally extraneous.
Some experience this technique as patronizing in the extreme. Although the arrogance of this approach is evident, it also sends a subtler message that the speaker is unwilling to permit the listener to frame the question.
Be direct. For instance, convert this: "Can we see the end? Not yet, but we're turning the corner," to this: "We can't yet see the end, but we're turning the corner."
I've been wondering when you'd bring that up
Heard as: I'm so prescient that I anticipated your obvious point. And your point, though obvious, is insignificant.
Dismissing the intellect or contributions of your partner undermines the chance of achieving fruitful collaboration.
Better to address the point directly, without the commentary.

Many of the hurtful clichés in common use became famous from popular films or TV shows, or because a famous person used them. Watch for these; notice how fast the new ones propagate. Ask yourself how appropriate such clichés are in the work environment. Is there not a better way to connect with your colleagues? First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Problem Defining and Problem Solving  Next Issue

We sometimes use clichés as a means of achieving indirectness; indeed, that's one reason why phrases become clichés. For more on indirectness see "The True Costs of Indirectness," Point Lookout for November 29, 2006.

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenQBdfJMHTtLVWrPdmner@ChacuxXkSOdZzqAjRBNyoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Bullying:

The silhouette of a famous fictional detectiveSome Truths About Lies: II
Knowing when someone else is lying doesn't make you a more ethical person, but it sure can be an advantage if you want to stay out of trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.
A polar bear, feeding, on landResponding to Threats: III
Workplace threats come in a variety of flavors. One class of threats is indirect. Threateners who use the indirect threats aim to evoke fear of consequences brought about not by the threatener, but by other parties. Indirect threats are indeed warnings, but not in the way you might think.
A Turkey Vulture and its mimic, a Zone-Tailed HawkBiological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying
When targets of bullies decide to stand up to their bullies, to end the harassment, they frequently act before they're really ready. Here's a metaphor that explains the value of waiting for the right time to act.
Congessman Darryl Issa (R-CA)When the Chair Is a Bully: II
Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
Bowling pins for ten-pin bowlingSeventeen Guidelines About Workplace Bullying
Bullying is a complex social pattern. Thinking clearly about bullying is difficult in the moment because our emotions can distract us. Here are some short insights about bullying that are easy to remember in the moment.

See also Workplace Bullying, Emotions at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Passing the baton in a relay raceComing January 24: Understanding Delegation
It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers. Available here and by RSS on January 24.
A serene mountain lakeAnd on January 31: Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: I
The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions. Available here and by RSS on January 31.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenrGiRPKAVjAyWHWNkner@ChacyYPsHzazAMYFXrlyoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.