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

Hurtful Clichés: Part 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: Part 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.

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