Let’s be passionate about getting rid of clichés

John Gushue
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No one seems to email me anymore; no, they’re “reaching out.” No one seems to have a plain, old-fashioned good idea; instead, it’s a “strategic” one.
If I could get a dime for every time I’ve seen these and other words, like “sustainable” and “effective” in news releases, I would be propped up at a resort in the Caribbean.

If you really want to trip up over workplace clichés, go no further than LinkedIn, the social network for professionals. I’m not the biggest user of LinkedIn, but I can see why it appeals to many people, and for different reasons: it’s a great way to make new contacts, renew old ones, learn of opportunities and advance a career. (It’s also an underrated source of news and information, and not just about the business world.)

But there’s one thing you will definitely find on LinkedIn, as you scan member profiles and messages, and that’s a never-ending heap of clichés.

It’s been such an entrenched problem that LinkedIn itself has been underscoring it for some time.

As a nudge to its members (there are more than 85 million in the U.S. alone), LinkedIn regularly publishes its list of buzzwords they ought to avoid, simply because they’re used so often.

2013 buzzwords list


In the latest warning, published a couple of weeks ago, LinkedIn revealed that the most overused word is none other than “responsible.” Not a ghastly word in its own right, but as LinkedIn noted, it shows up with astonishing regularity in the gentle boasts that people make in listing the accomplishments in their CVs.

The runner-up will likely ring some bells: “strategic.” Poor strategic; it used to be a powerful word, but it’s been drained of that because it’s used so frequently. What decision, program or (groan) initiative is not strategic?

Rounding out the list of words that are used too frequently are such selections as effective, creative, driven and innovative.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with each of these words, of course. LinkedIn’s point is that these words get washed out and lose their impact; they become part of the wallpaper or the background, not the shimmering focal point up front.

In other words, rather than rely on one of those standbys, find another, intriguing way to express the same thought.

I have my own list of bugbears. Why, for instance, is everyone “passionate” about their given field or area of specialty? I can’t count the number of profiles, Twitter biographies and blurbs that trumpet people being passionate about a great many things, even the most prosaic parts of one’s working life. (I got a giggle out of one recent Fast Company article that bemoaned this trend: “To see the number of professionals who claim they are ‘passionate,’ ‘inspired,’ or ‘committed’ to their field or role, you would think the entire workforce spent every day joyfully twirling around a mountaintop a la Julie Andrews.”)

I know there are resumé guides and templates out there. It’s too bad that this kind of advice can’t be handed out more frequently to young job-seekers. After all, the people reading the resumés must have glazed-over eyes after seeing the same clichés over and over.

For me, resumés are just one symptom of a bigger problem with clichés. If we can be more original with one style of writing, why stop there? News releases, reports, speeches … all of them could use a new approach and a fresh choice of words.

It comes down to this: it’s always a good idea to think twice about what it is we want to say.

John Gushue is a digital producer with CBC News in St. John’s.  Blog: johngushue.typepad.com.

Organizations: Fast Company, CBC News

Geographic location: U.S.

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