Monday, February 28, 2011

Avoid using multiple hedges (3)

Avoid using multiple hedges; they undermine your credibility. Here’s an example:

During a May 2004 interview, Christopher Dymond, solar engineer for Oregon’s Department of Energy, was asked what motivates him to run his project, “Solar Creek – Clean Renewable Energy for Everybody’s Kids.” Here is his response, in part (boldface added, to highlight hedges):

I guess what motivates me at the core, is that we are now living on a planet with an atmosphere is as different, in terms of greenhouse gasses – the ability of the planet to hold heat around itself like a thermal blanket – it’s as different today, as when there was a mile of ice up where Chicago would be during the last ice age. In other[ ]words, we have as much in common with that ice age period as we do with the period between 10,000 years ago and the 1850’s. Things have changed that much. And it’s going to take many decades for that impact to translate into a different climate[.] The oceans today have huge amounts of thermal mass, so what we’ve done is started the ball rolling, and we haven’t seen it yet go anywhere; it’s just rolling. But it’s going to start changing everything. And the rate at which we are changing is accelerating. It’s not only that we have changed the atmosphere, but we are going to continue to change it over the next many decades. And then when we finally decide to turn this big ship around, it’s going to take several more decades to do this. And every decade that we wait will make it that much harder to reverse the trend. So it’s going to take ten times, a hundred times longer to stop, just to return to where we are now, depending on how long we wait. The ozone layer doesn’t repair itself nearly at the rate that it is lost. Depending on how long [we] wait, it could be three hundred years before the ozone in the atmosphere that we have lost returns just to where it is now. It’s a slow process. So that’s sort of at the core of the issue for me.


First hedge: At the beginning of his response he uses straightforward language (“what motivates me… is”) but he hedges it with “I guess.”

Second hedge: He hedges it further with “at the core.”

Third hedge: Then, after 282 words of detail, he summarizes. But instead of using the word “motivates” or “motivation,” he uses the non-committal phrase “the issue for me.”

Fourth hedge: He further hedges “the issue for me,” making it “the core of the issue for me.”

Fifth hedge: He further hedges “the core of the issue for me,” making it “at the core of the issue for me.”

Sixth hedge: He further hedges “at the core of the issue for me,” making it “sort of at the core of the issue for me.” He keeps backing away.

Most men, when talking about their pet projects, speak in clear, assertive language. In contrast, Mr. Dymond sounds like he is trying to avoid speaking in clear, assertive language.

If Mr. Dymond believes in what he is doing, he should talk more like this:

What motivates me is the threat to the atmosphere. We are damaging the atmosphere, and the amount of damage is increasing exponentially. If we keep delaying the use of solar power, it may take three hundred years for the atmosphere to recover. I want to do my part – right now – to help stop the damage.

The Takeaway: When listeners hear multiple hedges, especially multiple hedges in a single sentence, they stop taking you seriously. They may even wonder if you are telling the truth. If you must use hedges, use them sparingly.

See disclaimer.

No comments:

Post a Comment