Communication - Watch Weasel Words

in Communication

One of my heroes is Alexander Kuzmin. Never heard of him? Well, not surprising, since Mr. Kuzmin is the mayor of Megion, an oil town in Siberia. Yep. The mayor of a small town about 1,500 miles north of Moscow is one of my champions.

Here's why. A tiny little AP story tucked in the corner of my newspaper a couple years ago revealed that Mayor Kuzmin has ordered his bureaucrats to stop using expressions such as "I don't know" and "I can't." Or else they can look for another job. He was apparently tired of his staff making excuses and as good as admitting they were too lazy to do the work. According to a statement by the good mayor, "Town officials must figure out how to solve and remove problems, not to avoid them."

The Mayor put some meat behind the ban by stating that "the use of these expressions by city administration officials while speaking to the head of the city will speed their departure."

Wow. Can you imagine? According to some of the mayor's staff, they now come to meetings armed with several proposals on how to handle a problem. No excuses are allowed. The result is: solutions.

Here are some of his 25 banned expressions:

-I don't know.  

-I can't.  

-It's not my job.  

-It's impossible.  

-There's no money.  

-I was away/sick/on vacation.  

-What am I supposed to do?  

-I'm not dealing with this.  

-Somebody else has the documents.  

I'd add a few more to my own "banned expressions" list, including: "I'll see what I can do," "I'll try," "Yes, but..." and "You don't understand."

Do you see what all of these have in common? I call them "weasel words" because using such phrases is a way of weaseling out of responsibility. When colleagues, or heaven forbid, customers, are looking for you to answer questions, solve problems, or resolve sticky issues, they don't expect or want you to duck responsibility and leave them adrift in helpless confusion, frustration, or anger.

Consider this. Suppose you asked a colleague to handle something for you, and he replied, "I'll see what I can do." Or "I'll try." How convinced are you that he'll really get it done? Suppose, instead, he said, "I'll take care of it." Doesn't that confident commitment instill your trust in him? 

Here are some positive talk phrases:

-I'll find out.

-I'll take care of it.

-It's a challenge I'm up to.

-I'll be glad to...

-Let's brainstorm some ideas.

-What would you like me to do?

Roger Dawson, famous speaker and negotiator, once said, "There is a place in heaven for anyone who says, 'I'll take care of it.'" Amen.

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Barbara Busey has 1 articles online

Barbara Busey, president of the training firm Presentation Dynamics, has been a professional speaker, trainer and author since 1990. She does training and speaking on the "dynamics" of how people "present" themselves, is the author of the book, "Stand Out When You Stand Up," and is the creator of The Compelling Speaker, a unique presentation skills training program that combines advance audio CD instruction with a hands-on, ultra participative workshop. She now offers the Compelling Speaker Certification, a turnkey system -- complete with training content & technique, business strategies, and marketing guidelines -- that positions communicators to make a living training other business professionals to become more compelling speakers. Go to Compelling Speaker Certification to see her video, listen to her audio, and learn when the next Certification training is.

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Communication - Watch Weasel Words

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This article was published on 2010/03/26