I’m a word nerd from way back.
As a kid, I went from word search puzzles in the back seat of the car, to the Jumble with my Pops on the couch. Those puzzles had no clues. All one needed was an eagle eye, and a sense of how vowels and consonants were patterned to form words.
Boggle came next. Then Scrabble. Now I do the daily Crossword in the New York Times.
Whatever the format—this blog, a report for a client, or a truthful conversation—searching for just the right words gives me joy.
Unless I’m cross. Then, the only words I can find will be wrong.
Remember Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus? It was the nonfiction bestseller of the 1990s. It pitted men against women in terms of communication styles.
Those ideas are passé today. They’re gender stereotypical. And we’re far more evolved. But we still have trouble communicating. We still yearn to be heard.
According to UPI, native English-speaking Americans know an average of about 42,000 words. But in everyday speaking and writing, we use just a fraction of them.
Over 10 years, the Wall Street Journal used fewer than 20,000 unique words in all of its content.
Presidential candidates speak in public at a 6–8 grade level.
And even the NYT puzzles get easier once you master the masters’ most commonly used words and phrases.
Does this mean that we should repeat ourselves—over and over—in service of clarity and emphasis? Perhaps. But only if we know we are doing it.
Last year, Inc. magazine noted 17 “horrible business clichés that make people ignore whatever else you have to say.” Tribe. Hustle. Low-hanging fruit. Take it offline.
You know the drill: In business and in life, when we use the same words and phrases over and over again, people are likely to tune us out.
I’m guilty as charged! Are you?
Mindfulness. Presence. Awareness. Joy. These are concepts worthy of our full attention. And yet, in our newfound or growing enthusiasm, we tend to overuse.
How can we share our experiences and struggles, without boring our friends and lovers to tears?
How can we engage in important conversations, if we feel chided to shun the very vocabulary we are just learning to use?
How can we be be gentle and openhearted—yet diligent and precise—while also giving our fellows the room to come along, in their own due time?
I’d say that’s a puzzle worth solving.
Let me know how it goes!