The next time you’re going through a really tough time and some perky little twit says to you, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” or “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” try to resist the temptation to stuff a carrot muffin up his or her nose. That person probably has the best of intentions.
When people don’t know what to say or can’t find the words to express themselves, they often fall back on those trite, overused expressions: clichés.
Many clichés are based in reality and once had a valuable point to make. But they have been used so often that they can come across as shallow and meaningless. Use of clichés has the tendency to make the speaker or writer appear superficial, so it’s not the best method of communication.
Clichés will probably always dog us. “Think outside the box.” (I didn’t realize I was in a box.) “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” (So buy a new chain.) “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” (Yes, you can.) “If the shoe fits, wear it.” (Makes sense to me.) “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” (Nor can you judge a book by its book reviews.) “Keep your nose to the grindstone.” (Gross.) “It’s not rocket science.” (Good thing too, as not very many of us are astrophysicists.) “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” (Actually, tomorrow sounds just fine to me.) “Let’s hit the ground running.” (Well, let’s not hit the ground at all, OK?)
We can be absolutely overwhelmed by the number of clichés built into our lives. Take business and advertising, for example.
“By giving 110 percent and proactively thinking outside the box, we have come up with a value-added proposition that will maximize customer satisfaction, seamlessly integrating into your current setup and providing the footprint for the paradigm shift needed to take your business to the next level. It’s a win-win situation.”
Are these cute phrases effective in telling us what is being sold? Does the seller actually have a product that’s of any use at all? Does the seller even know what is being sold? Or do the company’s marketing whizzes have way too much time on their hands (aha – another cliché!)?
Real communication, be it business or personal, can be difficult (but when the going gets tough, the tough get going). However, use of clichés can often confuse the issue and may even be offensive (see opening paragraph).
In order to communicate, your own words (the real McCoy) are what will truly get the message across (clear as a bell). This may take some time and thought, but it’s better than superficiality and you won’t run the risk of offending those close to you with trite advice.
Admittedly, there are times when clichés are the perfect fit (as in an article on clichés).
For true communication, though, if you find yourself spouting tired old phrases, you’re barking up the wrong tree. But don’t throw in the towel – head back to the drawing board, burn a little midnight oil and create your very own communications labour of love. Then put your best foot forward; try, try again; and communicate to your heart’s content.
After all, no pain, no gain.
And while you’re at it, you might as well stop and smell the roses, too.
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.