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About Those Words

By: Nan S. Russell




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Traveling over the holidays to visit family outside of Denver, we were fortunate to arrive after a blizzard stranded thousands at the airport, and depart before the cancellation of flights for a second storm. However, our holiday presents were not as fortunate. Okay, things happen.

Following up on the undelivered gifts we were informed by a customer service representative, "Your packages are scheduled to arrive on the 26th." No packages arrived on the 26th or the 27th or the 28th or the 29th ... you get the point. Yet each time we called back, we were told they should be delivered tomorrow.

Credibility could have been preserved if the carrier had simply told us the truth. Inundated with hundreds of thousands of displaced packages due to a two-day transportation shutdown, they had no idea when our particular packages would be delivered. Instead, they did what many people do. They chose weasel words to evade, retreat and avoid commitment. They told us what they thought we wanted to hear.

Like a weasel sucking out an egg's content without destroying the shell, weasel words give the appearance of communicating information as they suck out meaning. Words like many, much, should, maybe, often, some or seems can be put in that category. So can common workplace phrases like: "it has come to my attention;" "many people think;" "it has been decided;" or "we can deal with that later." It's easy to find them. Just listen for what is not being said and you'll spot the weasel words.

These avoidance, non-committal spin words erode communication, trust and credibility. Of course, we all use them from time to time. But there's a difference when we opt for their use to intentionally deceive. People who deliberately choose weasel words to deflect conflict, disagreement, obligation or accountability are not people who are winning at working.

People who are winning at working know the power of words to build relationships, influence results, and enhance trust. They also know their power to diminish credibility, motivation and results if they're used to create spin, deflect accountability or avoid commitment. Every word you use is a choice to build or diminish trust.

While weasel words attempt to soften the impact of unpopular messages, especially in the workplace, in reality they build walls, diminish confidence, increase suspicion, enhance rumors, and reduce results. Honest communication comes with risk, but so does dishonest communication, and those risks are greater.

Just so you know, I won't be using that delivery carrier anytime soon. Not because the packages missed the mark, I can understand that, but because their words did. Like Mark Twain said, "When in doubt, tell the truth."


©2007 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Sign up to receive Nan's complimentary biweekly eColumn at http://www.winningatworking.com. Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently finishing her new book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a columnist, writer and speaker. Visit http://www.nanrussell.com