Rachael on the go

Quick writing tips and ideas, but some musings too

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You honestly shouldn’t

In an online video about words that we overuse, three words resonated with me: honestly, literally, absolutely. I used to fling around these words every day, without a second thought. Then my children reflected them back to me, with some clanger comments:

‘Seriously mum?’

‘If I’m being honest, I don’t like this dinner’

‘I have absolutely no idea what you mean mum’.

And I ground my teeth at the tone.

Turns out I like saying these words but not hearing them. And my kids feel the same. Those innocuous sentence fillers that were a daily part of my speech are inappropriate, not just because they are overused but because they patronise the listener. Not good communication.

We don’t often use these three words in our work writing. But we do use them in other workplace dialogue – presentations, meetings, speeches. Just as I encourage you to use fresh language in your writing, let’s aim to knock these oldies (but not goodies) out of our speech.

Often the best approach is to drop such descriptors all together. But sometimes we want a bit of emphasis. In this case, try replacing your go-to adverb with language that better helps achieve your communication goal. A question or an instruction may be your best approach:

Turn ‘I am seriously trying to make a point here’ into ‘Do you understand my point? Do you have any questions?’ (Goal = knowing whether people understand you)

Turn ‘I honestly don’t know where this project is heading’ into ‘Do we know where this project is heading? What can we expect?’ (Goal = getting people’s help to predict an outcome)

Turn ‘This approach is absolutely our best option’ into ‘Let’s take this approach. I recommend it as our best option’ (Goal = getting people to choose a particular approach)

Yep, say it straight. Tell people what you think and what you want them to think or do. And leave out those three words that probably just annoy people.

By the way, while we’re purging words, let’s do away with frankly, genuinely, positively, in point of fact, truly, really, actually