My Forbidden Phrase Addiction

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Damnit! I broke my rule. I used a Forbidden Phrase. I can’t believe I just did that. It wasn’t intentional. That’s not true. Yes, it was. Everything I do is intentional, isn’t it? How could it not be? There was no proverbial gun to my head. In fact, there wasn’t even any pressure. I was having a low-stress, low-risk and low-blood pressure conversation with my attorney, and I just flat out slipped, intentionally….and regrettably.

Maybe it was because my attorney is fond of making points that start with “at the end of the day” and end with, well, a point. Some sales coaches believe that it’s important to mimic the prospect’s mannerisms. Maybe that’s what I was doing. Trying to build rapport with Tim. Mapping him. But I’ve known him for years and we’ve been through thick and thin together. There’s no need for rapport reinforcement. We know who each other is and how each other operates.

No, it was simpler than that. I fell into the lazy trap and broke my rule because of it. I don’t think Tim paid it any mind. After all, he probably hears it so often (you probably do as well, if you’re being honest, that is) that he didn’t even notice, like a normal person. Not like me.

What’s the rule you ask [subtle foreshadowing in the last paragraph]? To be honest with you, it was me starting a sentence with “To be honest….”. Uggh! Even before it was all the way out, I felt like smacking myself. I threw up a little in my mouth and saw a vision on myself, looking back at me with disapproving disdain, with folded arms and an ashamed look on its face, head shaking in disappointment. I may have blushed in embarrassment as well.

If you’ve read some of my previous stuff, you know that I have an aversion to small talk; and wasted talk. I’m one of those annoying (or sad, or something else) “words matter” people, and this word combination drives me nuts. Every time I hear it, I wonder about the other person’s intention. After all, if you feel the need to ‘to-be-honest preface me’ before you tell me something, should I be thinking that what you told me before, or what you may tell me later, without the preface, might not be honest?

Or is it simpler than that? Do people use honestly, to be honest or can I be honest with you, to dampen the blow of an insult they’re about to toss my way. Are they protecting my feelings or theirs? Are they using it to avoid confrontation, even as they’re about to confront nonetheless? Or, are they just innocently wasting words?

Years ago, I created a list that I called “The Forbidden Phrases” that I shared and posted around the company. [I know what you’re thinking – must not have been anything important for me to be doing that day – sigh]. These were words or phrases that I didn’t want us to be using because I felt that they diminished our mission, and the responsibility we had to one another. I offered Possible Alternatives to the FP’s, suggestions about ways to say things that are more positive, and clearer, that the FP’s. For example, Forbidden Phrase # 4 was ‘Honestly…. or, To be Honest.’ The Possible Alternative was ‘Here’s what I think,’ which to me seemed like what ‘To Be Honest’ really meant. [Another option that I’ve used is “may I have permission to speak freely with you” – that works well, in my experience].

It would take more therapy than it’s worth to get to the bottom of why I let ‘To be honest’ infect my exchange with Tim that afternoon. And I realize that no one’s asking me to apologize for this, or for that matter justify it. No one’s asking me to make amends. Except me.

Here’s what I think. I know that life’s not about re-do’s, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for forgiveness, even if it’s from myself. I’m willing to do my penance and, to be honest with you (wink-wink), we’ve probably all got things that are more important to worry about.

PS: I have a lot more on the wasted talk topic. Stay tuned. And thanks for enjoying my blog!


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Mike Malatesta

Mike Malatesta

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I help entrepreneurs get unstuck, take back their power, achieve their life objectives, and create the futures they want.

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