Confusing Road SignIf you are a frequent reader of this blog, you may remember the Elephant in the Closet post, which is one of the best mash-ups of two idioms I’ve heard. Unfortunately, the speaker did not know she had misspoken, and was taken aback when people chuckled. As a result, she was thrown off their game. Contrast that with another speaker who intentionally said, “We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it,” and waited for the audience to laugh.

Last week I heard two different mash-ups – one planned, the other, not so much.  The planned one was spoken by a very boisterous, opinionated entrepreneur who loves to exaggerate (I admit I am a big fan of well-timed overstatements). He wanted to shoot down an idea that a colleague had suggested to which others in the meeting were becoming too attached. He tried a few subtle pushbacks that fell flat, and then when someone said, “This could really work!,” he said, “When giant pigs fly!”  I just loved that he added the word giant, as if pigs flying wasn’t far-fetched enough.

The second example – the unintentional fumble – was spoken by someone who was trying to uncover the real reason for the conflict that had built up among her co-workers.  She said, “I think it’s time we all recognize the pink elephant in the room.” Her comment was met with blank stares which she interpreted as a vote of no confidence.

I bring this up today because one of my clients is suffering from a credibility deficit. I know this because he asked me to interview several people on his team. One of the themes that emerged was their embarrassment when in important meetings with customers, he misspeaks. What’s worse, according to his team, he is completely unaware that he has said anything wrong.  When I asked for examples, here is what they shared:

  1.  “Irregardless, you want a strategy that won’t take the thunder out of your sails.”
  2. “If we go that route we’ll be robbing Peter to pay the piper.”

Yes, there is more going on with this leader and his team, but he is clearly driving them crazy with his verbal delivery. Not only do they feel it undermines his credibility, but it also undermines theirs. Fortunately, we worked out a process by which the team can let him know when he has misspoken. I give him a lot of credit for his willingness to accept what most of us would consider insensitive or nitpicky feedback. He now knows that he should say “regardless” or “irrespective,” but never “irregardless.”  And that he should say “wind out of your sails.”  One of his team members gave him a vintage Happy Face coffee mug as a token of her appreciation.

If you are trying to be influential or persuasive, if you want your message to resonate with your audience, then becoming more aware of your use of metaphors and idioms will help boost your overall impact. Unless, of course, you are purposely trying to stir up a can of worms.

– Barbara

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