By Jim Sobeck
“Weasel words” are words people use to weasel out of a commitment or to avoid responsibility for something. Some of the weasel words that bug me the most are:
“To be perfectly honest with you.” I have always hated that phrase. To me it says that the person I’m speaking with has not been honest with me until that point, and it doesn’t instill confidence in me that they are telling the truth after they use that phrase.
“The powers that be.” This one always drives me nuts. I hear this a lot from people who don’t want to take responsibility and hide behind that phrase. Example: “I agree with you, but the powers that be won’t let me do it.”
“I haven’t found the time.” I hear this a lot from people who have missed a due date. I tell these people: Time is never found, it is made. When someone says, “I haven’t found the time,” I correct them and say, “You haven’t made the time.”
“It fell through the cracks.” This phrase makes my skin crawl, because any effective person has a follow-up system so that they don’t forget to do important things. You can put a task in a tool such as Microsoft Outlook and forget about it because the tool will remind you when it needs to be done. When I hear this phrase, I know I am dealing with an amateur.
“I couldn’t find any way to contact her.” When I hear this, I normally go right to Google and find a way to contact the person in question in a matter of seconds. These weasel words tell me that the person I’m speaking with didn’t even try.
“That’s not my job.” These are the weasel words that aggravate me the most. They indicate a person who is not committed to his job. As I tell my coworkers: “Anything I ask you to do is your job as long as it is legal, ethical and moral.” I also tell people I interview that the phrase “That’s not my job” will get them fired.
“We’ve never done it that way.” The speaker may as well just say, “I have no interest in trying to accommodate your needs. Go away.” Our company’s unofficial motto is: “The answer is yes; now, what was the question?” Which would you rather hear?
“That’s not our policy.” When a customer hears those words, he immediately braces for a negative experience. I coach our associates to avoid using the word “policy” because of its negative connotations. It’s much better to say something like, “That’s not our usual practice, but we will make an exception for you.” That way the customer knows an exception is being made for him and that your company values him as a customer.
“Hope you are well.” This ubiquitous phrase is the e-mail equivalent of asking “How are you?” in a face-to-face conversation. I don’t think the person asking really cares in either situation.
“Thx.” To me, it is the ultimate in laziness to put “Thx” at the end of an e-mail. It only requires three more keystrokes to say “Thanks” — or better yet, six more keystrokes to say “Thank you” — at the end of your correspondence.
I guess that since Andy Rooney has passed away, I am applying for his position of curmudgeon-in-chief. Am I being too picky? What say you?
Jim Sobeck is CEO of New South Construction Supply, a building products distributor based in Greenville with nine locations in the Carolinas and Georgia. He is the author of ““The Real Business 101: Lessons From the Trenches.”