Writers have a mental list of words they despise. Words that have become so over-used and misused they no longer serve any purpose.
You’re probably thinking of your most-detested buzzwords right now. Like ‘stakeholder’, ‘innovative’ or ‘best in class’. Words that come up so often in a meeting, they deserve their own bingo game.
This blog is not about those words, because we’ve covered them extensively before.
Instead, this year I’ve decided to consciously uncouple from three far more innocuous words. It will be hard to eliminate them altogether, but it might be an interesting experiment.
“Oh, so busy…”
Enough! I call time on ‘busy’. Yes, we’re all feeling it – work, life, kids blah blah. But the B-word is an instinctive response because if you’re not busy you must be failing in some way. And it’s also a pretty negative state to be in – just saying it makes me feel stretched, pressured and not in control.
The B-word is also yet another excuse for why it’s taken me a month to write this ‘timely’ blog for the new year.
What if I chose to say my day, week or life is ‘full of good things’ instead? Then, it’s up to me to choose what those good things are. Interesting projects, great conversations, time for ideas.
We all have just 24 hours every day, so it’s time to make them count. Say no to the things that don’t fill your bucket. Then you’re not busy. You’re productive.
“You know the problem with professional services?” one of my favourite clients asked me late last year. “They ‘we’ all over themselves.”
I realised he was right. Go to any ‘about us’ page for a lawyer, accountant, engineer or financial adviser, and I guarantee most sentences will start with ‘we’.
Hand on heart, we are also guilty of this at Writers. Which means we’re not following our own advice – to focus on ‘what’s in it for the reader’ in every word we write. Why should they care about what we do? Once you start saying ‘so what?’ to every we statement (fuelled by a hefty dose of empathy), it’s possible to flip ‘we’ into ‘you’.
I’ve been running a successful business for more than a decade, and I know my stuff. So why do I occasionally launch in with an apology when I write an email or introduce an idea to a meeting?
OK, it’s probably because I’m a woman. My instinct is to please, to be a yes-person. (And if I say yes too often, you know what happens? I start using the B-word again).
There are obviously times a ‘sorry’ is warranted. If you’re inexcusably late or spill coffee all over your client’s new jacket, then suck it up and apologise.
But say sorry too often, and you dilute the impact of both the message and the apology. You undermine your own ideas.
If you do feel the need to apologise, start by offering a solution. Fix the problem, correct the mistake – and then realise you might not even need to say sorry after all. You can even get a Just not sorry plug-in for Chrome, to highlight when your words are so apologetic they demean the message.
Busy, we and sorry. They’re just three harmless, easily understood little words. However, avoiding them will take more than a thesaurus – it will actually force me to change some pretty deeply-entrenched habits.
What’s one word you’ll put to one side in 2019… and how might it change what you do? Share with us in the comments.