Thursday, October 25, 2012

Unintentional hedging (5) – “kind of” and “pretty much”

Unintentional hedging – the unconscious use of kind of, pretty much and other hedges – is a bad habit that is all too easy to fall into. First, you start unwittingly imitating other people’s use of hedging. Second, over time, you hedge more and more frequently. Third, eventually you start hedging in highly inappropriate situations – often damaging your credibility.

Here are three examples of highly inappropriate situations:

Example 1

On a quarterly earnings conference call with analysts and investors, the president of Corus Television says, “So we are kind of launching each new season...” and “We have a third season already kind of in production...” (Boldface added) (Source)

Analysis: The president sounds like he is not sure whether his company is launching something and not sure whether the “third season” of something is in production yet. A president should be sure of these matters, especially during an earnings call.*

Example 2

In a Discovery Channel program about medieval instruments of torture, the male co-host says (00:58) the strappado was “kind of diabolical.” His enunciation is babyish; for example, he pronounces “going to” as “geh.” The female co-host informs us (01:24) that someone hanging from the strappado with his shoulder joints about to be ripped apart would be feeling “pretty much incredible pain.” Boldface added)

Analysis: These two putative adults sound like little children playing with toy models. They trivialize the agony of thousands of innocent people.

Example 3

Simona Suh (pictured), an attorney for the U. S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), suggests that Meaghan Cheung, an SEC branch chief, decided not to investigate Bernie Madoff, the biggest crook in Wall Street history, because the whistleblower was “kind of condescending.” (Boldface added) (Source: No One Would Listen, page 156)

Analysis: Ms. Suh, blithely speculating about her boss’s emotions, sounds like a little girl pretending to be a lawyer. She wittingly or unwittingly suggests that Ms. Cheung actually passed up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity merely for the childish reason that she vaguely disliked the man who was trying to hand her the opportunity.

The Takeaway: If you flippantly use the hedges kind of and sort of while you are discussing a grim, serious or weighty topic, you will sound like you are ignorantly trivializing the topic. You will sound like a child. Take preventive action: Record some of your speeches or conference calls (don’t break any laws). Listen to the audio or have it transcribed. If your hedges seem unconscious, begin trying to consciously catch yourself hedging. If you can catch yourself, you can break the habit.

Thanks to investor relations expert Paul G. Henning for contributing to this post.

Previous posts on this topic: (1), (2), (3), (4).

*For readers unfamiliar with investor relations: Quarterly earnings conference calls are not casual conversations. Normally, executive teams prepare by reviewing the transcript of the last quarterly call, then scripting their opening remarks for the coming call, and then rehearsing the remarks. They also write and rehearse the answers to all likely questions and even some merely possible questions. Preparation takes a week or longer. On the call, analysts and investors ask probing questions and expect straightforward answers. Management expertise is one of the top reasons professional investors buy the stock; ambiguous, evasive or hedged answers can reduce their confidence in management and their view of the stock.

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