In your quest to be a better person at work and in life in 2014 and in keeping with my end-of-year ritual to eradicate hollow, credibility-killing communications, here's a list of weasel words and improperly used phrases to expel from your speech.
• Stop using noncommittal language.
The young woman at my senator's office has this down to a science. To be relieved of any measurable work or accountability, she plucks noncommittal phrases out of the air one after another, which I'll demonstrate through a reenactment of the end of our 40-second conversation.
I asked if she would take care of a small but important request.
"I should be able to," she replied.
Not feeling her enthusiastic embrace of this minor duty, I said, "So, you'll take care of that?"
"I'll try," she replied.
Still not feeling the love, I said: "This is important. Can I count on you to do this?"
Big sigh, then: "I'll see if I can work on doing it."
"I'm not feeling comfortable that this will get done," I said.
Colossal sigh, and exasperated, "My G-d! "I said I'd see if I could try!"
What's wrong with an "I will take care of that this week" answer? It would certainly make her boss, who is struggling to hold onto his job, more popular.
• Stop describing things as "surreal."
"The whole thing was surreal" has become the common — and might I add slothful — way to describe anything unusual, uncanny or strange.
The word surreal, which until lately defined an artistic or literary style, now predictably flows out of the mouths of people who spend too much time watching bad television and too little time building their vocabulary.
Instead, why not consider how the event struck you? What was so unusual or strange?
Thinking before spewing empty throwaway phrases makes you a more interesting person who appears to be able to hold a meaningful conversation.
• Stop saying "Quote unquote."
The phrase doesn't mean anything.
People use it incorrectly two ways.
One, in making reference to something a person said. They say: "I like Shakespeare's quote unquote 'To Be or Not to Be.' " The correct usage: "I like Shakespeare's quote, 'To Be or Not to Be,' unquote" or "end quote."
Two, to indicate something is questionable by saying, "Quote unquote" mixed with the four-fingered air-quote gesture.
For example, in reference to the company's flexible work policy that they don't like, they say: "Our company's quote unquote flexible work policy."
The correct usage: "Our company's so-called policy on flexible work."
By the way, the phrase is bad enough without the annoying air finger quote which everyone hates. Stop this immediately.
To be perceived as smart and articulate, one of the ways to move up in your career, say what you mean.
• Stop prefacing sentences with "So" and ending them with "Right?"
We've discussed this before, but the practice seems more pervasive than ever.
An example of how a "so-er" job hunter responds when asked, "How did you get into marketing? is this:
"So I got into marketing when I was at my last job in sales. ..."
Her "so" setup makes it sound as if she is announcing that she is about to recite a pre-packaged, manipulated account of herself.
Regular people and those who want to connect with their audience don't talk like that. Drop the "so."
When it comes to ends of sentences, why say, "Right?"
It prompts the listener to ask: "How do I know if you're right? You're the one talking." Or the person wonders why he has to agree with you.
You sound insecure or manipulative. Drop it.
Some will say all of this is picky. But your choice of words is no small thing.
Ask most employers why they didn't hire one person over another. It often comes down to how the applicant seems based on how that person speaks.