Thursday, May 22, 2008

Unintentional hedging (1)

Here’s another easy way to produce clear writing (and speaking). Don’t hedge unintentionally. It diminishes, undermines or negates your message.

Every day, we all read or hear dozens or hundreds of unintentional hedges. For example:

Using “Umm” or “Umm, no” when disagreeing with someone.

Using “What I did was, I (past-tense verb),” as opposed to directly saying, “I (past-tense verb).”

Using “This may sound like a stupid idea, but I think...”

Using “Just my two cents” or “Just the view from here” or “Something to think about” or “For what it’s worth” (FWIW).

Using “kind of,” “kinda,” “sort of,” “sorta,” “like” and “pretty much.”

“Kind of” and “like” have become mania expressions in recent years. Often you see people quoted in the press who can’t seem to use a predicate adjective without putting “kind of” or “like” in front of it: “He looked kind of horrible.” “I was kind of scared.” “It was, like, catastrophic.”

Many writers and speakers even place “kind of” in front of a noun, adjective or adverb that implies precision. For example, I heard a CEO give a speech in which he said, “That’s kind of exactly what I mean.”

And some writers and speakers use “kind of” to undermine the main point of what they are writing or saying. For example, I heard another businessman say that he thought his company’s strategy “kind of maybe defines the trend of the industry.” People in the audience snickered.

When a writer or speaker uses these hedges a lot, even obtuse readers or listeners are going to notice it. When they do, they will receive this message: “I'm not really saying anything. Don’t pay any attention to me.”

The Takeaway: Say what you mean. If you intend to hedge, hedge: “We will be ready to announce the product in about five months.” Otherwise, don’t hedge. State simply and directly what you did, what you will do, what you believe, or what you recommend. Don’t tiptoe up to your assertions with “Umm.” Don’t say “like” or “kind of.” And don’t sneak away from your assertions with “Just a thought.” If you say what you mean, you will earn more respect.

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