The hedging / diminishing / equivocating “weak wishy-washy words” epidemic

I’m not sure what’s caused it, how it’s spread or why it seems to be so pervasive, but there is an absolute epidemic of mushy, grey, borderline apologetic language out there infecting what would be powerful presentations and conversation.  Words and phrases I refer to as “Weak Wishy-Washy words”. They’ve infected our speech in epidemic proportions, damaging the power of our message.

Kind of/ sort of: Two phrases that are meant to introduce an analogy (think “it’s like”), to illustrate two things that are akin to one another in some way, or to say “maybe”. These days they’re used all the time before the explanation of something that stands alone, is not being compared to another thing, and is absolutely definitely what it is. Example; “We’re sort of a software development company.” or “We’re kind of expanding into the European market.” Huh? Are you a software development company or not? Are you expanding into the European market or aren’t you? These are straightforward statements that should be unequivocal or not stated at all. In other words, there is no need in these sentences for words or phrases that would turn something black and white (your business, your expansion plans) into shades of grey.  Yet somehow “sort of” and kind of” are sprinkled liberally into business people’s (and every day people’s) conversation, turning just about everything to mush.  What exactly are we trying to avoid? Why are we resisting being direct, forceful, bold?

Strive: This is the sneaky, smarty-pants sister of “try”. Folks, no one is going to pay you for “striving”, just like no one’s lining up to see you “try”.  We have to throw our shoulders back, eat our Wheaties, and speak clearly and confidently about what we DO. (And not what we sort of do.)

Just:   As in, “I just want to say thank you.” “We just want to take a moment to talk about…  In these sentences  “Just” acts as an apology, or request for permission, neither of which is required or helpful. In fact, when you preface a thank you with “just” it diminishes the intent. You don’t just want to say thank you; you want to say a big huge neon THANK YOU. There’s no just about it. Nor do you need the audience’s permission to talk about something. You have the floor. You don’t need to apologize or hedge. You’ve got the audience’s permission, evidenced by the fact that you’re (most likely) standing and they’re sitting. You’re talking and they’re listening. Go for it; say clearly, concisely and compellingly (which is the opposite of hedging, diminishing and equivocating) what you’ve been invited there to say.

Think you’ve caught the hedging bug? Here’s the cure. Beginning today, pay attention to what’s coming out of your mouth.  Stop yourself from uttering “kind of, sort of, just“. Stop telling people that your company strives to help its customers. Keep your focus on the words you’re uttering and in a matter of days you will have wiped the Weak Wishy-Washy words from your vocabulary.  You will have cured yourself of this epidemic disease. And then, my healthy speaking friend, you’ll be heard.

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