Thursday, October 17, 2013
Like other professionals, police officers under pressure sometimes resort to vague cliches instead of clear, specific language.
During the first minute of this video, an officer detains and disarms a citizen and asks for the citizen’s papers. The citizen persistently cites court decisions, questions the officer, refuses to identify himself, and asks to have his gun returned.
The officer, while explaining why he is detaining the citizen, keeping the citizen’s gun, and asking for the citizen’s papers, resorts twice (at 1:00 and 1:02) to the vague cliche “all set.” He sounds unsure and unprofessional.
In contrast, this officer, in a similar situation, uses (at 2:14) the more-specific word “safe” and sounds much more professional. He is also immensely patient under pressure.
The Takeaway: If your job requires you to inform laymen, try not to use “all set” or other vague cliches. When laymen hear vague cliches, they tend to doubt that you know what you are talking about.* To avoid damaging your credibility, learn how to inform laymen in clear, specific language. Then train until you can use that language fluently, even when under pressure.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this post is not a legal opinion; it is a commentary on how a professional’s diction can affect his professional credibility. Also see my general disclaimer.
*Here’s another example of a professional (in this case, a technical sales representative) who damaged his credibility by resorting to a vague cliche (in this case, “bring it to its knees”) to convey information.