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Abused Words of the Day: Change Agent

February 23, 2018

A change agent, unlike a real estate agent, insurance agent or secret agent, exists because nothing can ever stay the same. 

A “change agent” must have “vision” and be a “thought leader.” You wouldn’t want a blind change agent or one who is a thought follower. 

If your company needs a change agent, be certain to find one who doesn’t change whatever is working in your business, but who instead focuses on areas where change is needed. Be certain, too, that you have a change-for-the-better agent, not a change-for-the-sake-of-change agent.

If you hire the wrong change agent, you may have to change change agents.

Writing Tips

February 20, 2018

Surveys consistently show that the ability to communicate well is the skill employers value most. Today, most communication is written, so time spent improving your writing is time spent well. 

In this podcast for the Engineering Management Institute with founder Anthony Fasano, I share a few tips that should help. http://bit.ly/TECCEp169

Abused Word of the Day: They

February 16, 2018

One person cannot be a “they.” A business or an organization cannot be a “they.” Yet they are regularly expanding the use of “they.”

We’ve all become squeamish about the pronoun “he,” but substituting “they” when you’re writing about one person is absurd. It beats he/she, but it’s best to make the subject plural whenever possible, so that “they” can be used.

He is not a “they,” she is not a “they” and your company or the organization you work for is not a “they.” It’s not even a person. It’s an “it.” Don’t write, “Banana Corporation announced that they are introducing a new version of the popular y-phone.” Write, “Banana Corporation announced that it is introducing a new version of the popular y-phone.”

There’s also “they say,” in which “they” is never defined. When someone says, “They say that salt is bad for you,” that person lacks credibility, because it’s not clear who “they” is. You know what they say: only use “they” when referring to more than one person and be sure to identify who they are first.

Abused Words of the Day: Touch Base.

February 5, 2018

I’m not sure where the “base” is, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere near the box that everyone is thinking outside of.

Depending on whose base you’re touching, and where that base is located, you can get in trouble for touching base in today’s workplace. Trying calling or emailing instead.

To “touch base” is to “talk to someone for a short time to find out how they are or what they think about something,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. We’re not sure at what point “short time” becomes “long time” and touching base becomes something else entirely.

This overused construction was recently named the most loathed example of “management-speak” in a British survey of 2,000 people. Apparently, “It is what it is” hasn’t hit Great Britain yet.

Abused Word of the Day: Fascist

February 12, 2018

Today, those who call others “fascists” often have more in common with fascists than the people they’re criticizing.

The word “fascist” comes from the Italian word “fascio,” meaning “group” or “bundle,” because under fascism, the emphasis is on the group with few individual rights. A fascist believes in a strong central government and has no tolerance for opposing opinions.

That sounds a lot like Antifa, the antifascist organization.

You may dislike President Trump, but that doesn’t make him a fascist. In fact, President Obama came closer to being a fascist, as he greatly expanded the role of government and set a record for adding new regulations, frequently without seeking Congressional approval.

When President Obama took office, the U.S. ranked fifth on the Index for Economic Freedom. After eight years of increasing government control through the most excessive regulation in the country’s history, the U.S. ranked 17th. In contrast, President Trump has been deregulating.

Fascism typically evolves from socialism or communism. As Nobel Prize winning economist Friedrich A. Hayek wrote, “Fascism is the stage reached after communism has proved an illusion.” Nazism, likewise, evolved from socialism. Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom, was written as a warning to the United States and the United Kingdom, which were becoming increasingly socialistic.

Keep that in mind the next time you think about calling someone who disagrees with you a fascist.

Cliché of the Day: Push the Envelope

February 1, 2018

Why would anyone push an envelope? What has the envelope ever done to you? Why not pull the envelope and push your weight? 

“Push the envelope is yet another cliché promoting violence, although it’s not as aggressive as throwing someone under the bus.

You may be surprised to learn that the “envelope” in this case isn’t made of paper. According to The Phrase Finder, “The envelope here isn’t the container for letters, but the mathematical envelope, which is defined as ‘the locus of the ultimate intersections of consecutive curves’. In a two-dimensional example, the set of lines described by the various positions of a ladder sliding down a wall forms an envelope - in this case an arc, gently curving away from the intersection of the wall and floor. Inside that envelope you will be hit by the ladder; outside you won’t.” 

Does that clear things up for you? Me neither. Math was my best subject growing up, but that was a long time ago. 

Envelopes, whether they’re containers for letters or loci of ultimate intersections of consecutive curves, should not be pushed without just cause. 

Abused Word of the Day: Literally

January 29, 2018

When Merriam-Webster gave “literally” two seemingly opposite definitions, its writers noted that some readers were not happy about it. The definitions:

1) in a literal sense or manner: actually
2) in effect: virtually

This led readers to leave comments such as, “This is literally the stupidest thing I've ever read. 

Most often, the first definition is the desired one. And, most often, the word is literally unnecessary. It’s typically used for emphasis, as in, “I’m literally down to my last dollar.” In this case, as in most others, the sentence is stronger without it: “I’m down to my last dollar.”

You can extract the word from your vocabulary and never notice that it’s missing. But you may find that it is occasionally handy. 

Last week, I had to explain to a friend that he literally couldn’t buy a house on the water.

 

Cliché of the Day: Give 110%.

January 25, 2017

Sure, it’s important to try your hardest, but it’s impossible to give 110%. It’s even impossible to give 100%, unless you give up breathing, eating and other important functions that have nothing to do with your job.

If your boss asks you to give 110%, ask for 110% of your salary in your next paycheck. Giving 110% doesn’t add up. 

Abused Words of the Day: Social Justice

January 23, 2018

“Social justice” isn’t a group of people sharing family photos in a courtroom. It has nothing to do with social media. This lofty sounding term is being used ad nauseum by academicians, activists (another abused term) and even some business people in the name of income equality and fairness.

“Social justice warriors” seek to “effect social change,” with the implication that we’d all be better off if we just did what the social justice warriors want us to do. Fair treatment of everyone would be nice, but one person’s idea of social justice is often another person’s idea of anti-social justice.

Parents are paying tens of thousands of dollars to send their kids to college to learn about social justice,. Where’s the justice in that?

If it’s really all about fairness, the word “justice” will suffice.

Cliché of the Day: Blue-Sky Thinking

January 22, 2018

It’s ironic that “blue-sky thinking” is a synonym for “brainstorming.” Whether you’re a fan of brainstormy weather or, like Irving Berlin, envision “nothing but blue skies from now on,” you should know that “blue-sky thinking” made the list of most hated jargon terms in a survey by Glassdoor.

I suppose “blue sky” means thinking unobscured by clouds, birds, airplanes, hot air balloons, satellites, nuclear missiles or other miscellany that blot out the sun. So if your mind is as blank as the sky is blue, you’re ready for some blue-sky thoughts. In other words, the term should be used only by managers who want their employees to stop thinking.