In the workplace, we often shortcut conversations by using clichés. While these quick, popular phrases are commonly understood, are you aware that they can damage your credibility? The Navy’s Topgun Fighter Weapons school put a stop to this thirty years ago. Maybe we should follow their lead.
In 1986, a now classic movie flaunted the glamorous life of Naval fighter pilots in their most elite training program, Topgun. Maverick, Goose, and Ice Man conveyed such quotable lines as “Jester’s dead, Hee-haw;” “Talk to me, Goose;” “It's time to buzz the tower;” and of course “I feel the need/the need for speed!” It taught us that our friends should be referred to as “wingmen” and badly (but loudly) singing the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” is an effective way to introduce yourself to a girl.
As much as we enjoy reciting these sayings from the film Top Gun, can you imagine how annoying and overused these adages were in the real Topgun? It got so bad that they instituted a $5 fine to any staff member who quoted the movie. This may seem amusing (and it is), but how guilty are you of abusing clichés?
According to Darlene Price, author of Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results, “you need to avoid business jargon and be clear in order to get your point across and be heard.” While most clichés were once a creative way to express a thought or idea, she says that “because of long, excessive use, each phrase has lost its originality, impact, and even meaning.” To avoid the stigma associated with stale sayings, here are five clichés that you should consider eliminating from your vocabulary:
“It's a paradigm shift”
When this idiom began in the early 1990s, speaking about paradigms was a sign of intelligence. Now, this phrase is synonymous with nonsensical lingo. Instead of saying something that clearly displays your lack of depth or knowledge, try such simple phrases as “major difference” or “fundamental change.”
“Drink the Kool-Aid”
I’m particular culpable of using this one. Some workplaces have an intense culture that can feel cultish, so when we feel a part of it, we may say that we’ve been “drinking the Kool-Aid.” The idea itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but maybe we can avoid a proverb that stems from the tragic 1978 Jonestown suicides.
“We work hard and play hard”
In the history of this phrase, has anyone who said it really worked hard AND played hard? Just say you believe in work/life balance and let’s move on.
“Do more with less”
Besides it’s overuse, this phrase has negative connotations. While you are trying to tell others to be resourceful, they are hearing vague criticism to work harder with less pay. Include more specifics in your advice. If there is a lack of available resources, explain this and ask how we can get the job done.
“Think outside the box”
Of all the clichés, this has gotta be the most overused. If you say this, you are showing others that you are trapped in “the box” with no hope of escape. In its place, encourage others to “consider a different perspective” or “stretch your imagination.” These references may not be as visual as a box, but it is clear, descriptive, and far more effective.
Every time you speak you have the opportunity to gain credibility and effectively engage others. Therefore, do not pollute your communication with hackneyed expressions. They don’t make you look poetic or deep, just generic. So take it to the next level by finding a more sincere way of talking. It’ll help you move the goal post so you can say what you really mean. Fake it until you make it so you can hit the ground running. And, as always, synergize.