Blogs by InnovatorsBox®

WHY DO COMMON BUSINESS EXPRESSIONS MAKE US CRINGE?

Originally published in: Forbes

My curiosity started with a personal observation. I noticed how I cringed every time a friend wrote “good luck!” when she declined an invitation to one of my events. I’ve declined events before, so I understood her good intention, but I also became aware that the phrase “good luck” was making me upset. I wondered, why is “good luck” considered a thoughtful response of support? Are we implying that we need luck because without it we will fail?

I shared my reaction with my colleague and friend Lola Han, CEO of CultivatePeople, to get her thoughts. I was concerned that I was overanalyzing the situation. But she agreed that it’s one of the phrases she dislikes despite its good intention. The first time she realized that this can be done differently was when she decided to leave a company to take a leap of faith to start her own company, and an executive said something else in place of “good luck”: “Go crush it! I’m excited for you. Let me know how I can support you.” That certainly leaves you at a different tone then hey good luck with your job, doesn’t it?

After my conversation with Lola, I started to ask others what they thought. In three days over 300 members of my online network responded (thank you, friends!) to my social media post where I asked, “What expressions do you dislike? Which ones make you cringe?” What I discovered was humbling:

1. We say a lot of things out of habit. And many feel disrespected by that.

Expressions including “let’s circle back,” “no worries,” “you got this,” “literally,” “honestly,” “synergy,” “disrupt” or “just my two cents” are used so much that they can start to feel thoughtless, impersonal or even disrespectful. Plus, they’re often unnecessary. Is your message false if you don’t add the phrase “honestly” at the beginning?

This online discussion made me reflect on how I’ve used these phrases out of habit, too. Especially when my brain is on auto-pilot. As I tuned into my communication style, I could hear my brain automatically responding. 

2. We rely on expressions to indirectly communicate what we need. 

Most professionals have said or heard the phrases, “I’d like to pick your brain,” “I don’t mean any disrespect, but…,” “at the end of the day,” “quick question” and “I don’t need to tell you…” The commonality between all of these phrases is an ask for help or an expression of an opinion in order to seem less pushy or direct. Yet these phrases come across as insincere and transparent. You are asking for help often in the form of a free consultation. And you are going to share your opinion — even if you weren’t asked. What if we just said what we need? “I need help.” “I’m concerned you haven’t thought about this perspective or outcome.”

I get a lot of requests to “pick my brain.” And I’ve noticed how I’m generous sharing time and advice with students and young professionals, who ask specifically and sincerely for my help. They don’t say “I want to pick your brain.” Rather they acknowledge how busy I am, why they respect what I do and are upfront about the questions they need help with. This simple change in the way we communicate can create more win-win conversations!

3. Some phrases are both liked and disliked. 

When someone shared on Facebook that they feel the word “love” is overused and misrepresented in work conversations, another person shared how that’s the very phrase her city in Yorkshire uses to say hello because “it’s a thing.” The two shared emojis and acknowledged each other. It was a true learning moment for them, and for everyone who read the thread. It reminded me how we should assume good intentions when it comes to communication.

Another business leader touched on her own multicultural experience. Because English is her third language, she said she doesn’t let herself get bogged down or annoyed by the written language. Rather, she focuses on building a better relationship and finding a good language to communicate with. It’s a powerful reminder of why we should never jump to conclusions and how we can use curiosity when we feel uncomfortable.

What surprised me the most from my exploration of this topic is how frequently miscommunication happens and opportunities are lost.

About the Author

Picture of Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

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