Chronic “phraseitis” or dumb things people say in really big meetings.
February 18, 2013
For years I have observed the way people talk in meetings. Even the smartest among us have certain tics and/or catch phrases we employ, often subconsciously, because we are nervous. Some are subtler than others. I sometimes think these quirks hurt a team’s performance, as if points are being deducted. In my vain attempt to wean myself of such behavior I pay extra attention to it in others.
The most obvious example is when a person overuses a word or phrase such as “like” or “basically.” We all know teen-agers who overuse the word “like.” Like, every sentence they utter begins or ends with it. Thankfully, most kids outgrow it. When adults overuse the word it’s painful. Particularly in a business meeting, where, unfortunately, it happens way too often.
There are many less broad examples. I worked with a man who always said “fundamentally” when he was speaking to a group. The more important the group the more he leaned on the word. “Fundamentally,” he would say, “the sky is blue.” Another colleague liked to sprinkle “if you will” into every presentation. “The sky, if you will, is blue.” I don’t even know what that means!
Both these men are smart. They seemingly can’t help themselves. They have mild cases of “Phraseitis.” Meetings are petri dishes for “Phraseitis.” It occurs there like colds in a child’s classroom.
Perhaps a more virulent strain is the unmitigated use of jargon. Here the afflicted person employs words never used in polite conversation, peppering his or her speech with industry lingo and corporate axioms. Like the onerous word “scalable.” I believe they make a cream for that. My current favorite is “onboarding.” Is that like wakeboarding? Torture. Yet, I’ve been in meetings where jargon is as common as dust.
Lots of discourse online regarding these topics, I know. I even saw a Twitter contest whereby people were asked to hash tag their favorite corporate clichés for fun and prizes.
When I was in college a bunch of us played a drinking game called “Bob.” While watching reruns of the old Bob Newhart Show, everyone had to imbibe alcohol whenever a character on the show said “Bob,” which was alarmingly often. Beyond the game’s silliness, it’s based on an interesting insight: that in real life people seldom use first names during conversation.
Imagine doing shots every time someone said “basically” or “real time” in a business meeting. We’d be drunk by noon. Dead by five.