That’s the word for the fillers and qualifiers we inject into our speech and writing.
Don’t get me wrong: hedges can be useful - for clarity, for avoiding arrogance or softening a harsh message. But too often they add no value or undermine our message and our authority.
See what you think of my selection.
'At this stage...' (Suggesting that things may change)
'I'm sorry to say that ..' and 'Unfortunately...' (Expressing empathy)
'Approximately' and 'about' (May be necessary for clarity)
'I think...' (Just say it.)
'You know what I mean?' (Yes,of course we do!')
'If that makes sense...' (Of course it does and until now we wouldn't have thought that you would say things that didn't make sense.)
'I would like to apologise for...' (Okay in speech, but in writing, just apologise.)
'Pretty' as in pretty dangerous, pretty expensive
'Rather' as in rather unique, rather quick
'Well, that's my opinion anyway.' (It's like saying, 'other people are bound to disagree, so don't take me too seriously'.)
Keep asking yourself, 'Do I really need this qualifier, or is it just undermining my message?'.
To some extent
‘Promise bronze. Aim to deliver gold.’
The cliché ‘under-promise and over-deliver’ isn’t enough. We prefer, ‘promise bronze. Aim to deliver gold’
But the real difference comes when we have gold ready to go.
Let’s say you are in the automotive parts business and a client wants you to deliver a set of pistons you don’t normally stock. You’re sure that you can deliver the pistons by the end of the week. That’s the bronze you promise.
Secretly, you’re thinking that you should be able to deliver them a couple of days earlier. We’ll call that gold, but don’t mention your hopes for an earlier delivery to your client.
Here’s the extra bit – and it’s vital
Check that they are content with bronze. Check that they want gold.
Let’s say it’s Wednesday morning, everything has gone as planned and you are ready to send the pistons to your client. It’s time to check that they want gold.
‘I promised to deliver them by the end of the week, but I’ve been able to move things along a bit faster for you and I could send them out this morning, if that suits you’.
You’ve done three things: reminded your clients of what you promised, shown that you’ve been working on their behalf to provide an even better service and checked that your clients really want an earlier delivery.
What if I can’t deliver gold?
No problem. If bronze (in our example, the end of the week) is acceptable and you do that, you have delivered on your promise.
Why ask if they want gold?
Put it this way: we know a manufacturing company that took pride in delivering early, but they didn’t ask if that’s what their clients wanted. The result: pallets of product would arrive at the clients’ warehouses unexpectedly. Was there space in the warehouse? Were their warehouse staff free to deal with it?
What the company thought was gold could have been more like lead. Instead of the clients thinking ‘This is amazing service’ they were probably thinking ‘These people can’t organize themselves’.
Checking with your clients shows how much you really want to do what’s right for them.