'I think you're going to find this interesting...'

First, I'd like to share something about preambles. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

My wife's uncle had a successful sales career. Once, when he wanted to share a story with me, I got an insight into one of his secrets. He started by saying:

"Bill, I think you're really going to find this interesting ... "

It was a smart introduction. Just a few short words, seemingly extraneous, but they subtly put the focus on me, not him.

They suggested he'd chosen this particular story not just because he wanted to tell it, but also because he thought I'd like to hear it. I couldn't help myself; it made me want to listen.

It's funny how small things, a short preamble, can communicate so much.

But, it works both ways, positive and negative. 

Writing in The New York Times a while back, Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, called out three words she thinks people should stop using:

"I feel like ... "

The idea is that qualifying an opinion like this undercuts it. It makes it sound as if you're not even sure of what you're saying.

If you're not even sure, why should anyone else be convinced?

"[M]ake no mistake,” Worthen wrote. “'I feel like' is not a harmless tic … [It] masquerades as a humble conversational offering, an invitation to share your feelings too—but the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks."

You're not saying that the sky is blue or water is wet; you're merely suggesting that you subjectively perceive it that way. And if others perceive it differently, that's OK too.

Perhaps most dangerous, Worthen continued, "This linguistic hedging is particularly common at universities, where calls for trigger warnings and safe spaces may have eroded students' inclination to assert or argue. It is safer to merely 'feel.'"

I think Worthen makes a valid point, but I do not agree 100 percent. For two reasons, really.

First, because sometimes there’s a power dynamic going on, in which a person with less power has to sugarcoat an idea or objection to lessen the risk of it getting shot down completely.

Second, because people also use phrases like, "I feel like" to soften a blow. 

("I feel like maybe you're not happy here, and we're going to offer you a severance package so you can find something else you'd rather be doing.")

There are other synonymous preambles, of course. Things like:

"It just seems like ... "

"I might be wrong, but ... "

"This is probably a stupid question, but ... "

A CEO I used to work for liked to ask questions very casually, as if they were throwaways.  But when he added the phrase, "just curious," I knew they were very important to him.

("Bill, just curious, did you get a chance to close the deal with XYZ Corporation, like you said you would?")

Anyway, I write newsletters like this one, and sometimes I'm concerned that people won't give themselves a break.

Yes, it's good to use strategic preambles, like my wife’s uncle’s “I think you're really going to find this interesting ...,” and it’s good to at least husband your use of things like “I feel like” so that if you use them, you’re doing so intentionally.

Nobody is "on" 100 percent of the time, nobody I'd want to spend much time with, anyway.

But I also know that sometimes people with good, smart ideas undermine their persuasiveness by using these kinds of verbal crutches.

Don't deprive the world of your ideas and solutions. Stand up for your beliefs, package them correctly, and let your language help your cause, not hurt it.

What do you think? Linguistic crutches or harmless phrases? Let us know in the comments.

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7 other things worth your time


Thanks for reading, as always. Photo credit: Pixabay. I wrote about some of this before for Inc.com. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.