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

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!

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.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.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 U.S. Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, ConnecticutConfronting the Workplace Bully: I
When a bully targets you, you have three options: accept the abuse; avoid the bully or escape; and confront or fight back. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
Small cage with canary used in testing for carbon monoxide after the Hollinger Mine fire on February 10, 1928On Being the Canary
Nobody else seems to be concerned about what's going on. You are. Should you raise the issue? What are the risks? What are the risks of not raising the issue?
September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityLook Where You Aren't Looking
Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events?
A bullying managerEven "Isolated Incidents" Can Be Bullying
Many organizations have anti-bullying policies that address only repeated patterns of interpersonal aggression. Such definitions expose the organization and its people to the harmful effects of "isolated incidents" of interpersonal aggression, because even isolated incidents can be bullying.
Disappointment that has escalated through frustration and possibly to angerAnticipatory Disappointment at Work
Disappointment is usually unpleasant, and sometimes benign. But when it occurs before we have evidence of bad news — when it is anticipatory — disappointment can be unnecessary and expensive. What is anticipatory disappointment? What are the risks?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The future site of 2 World Trade Center as it appeared in 2013Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
A hummingbird feeding on the nectar of a flowerAnd on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet 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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.