Weasel Words – Writing and Speaking Better

cropped-laughing-owlOn Friday, an email crossed my inbox regarding how to write better and weasel words.  The term “weasel words” first appeared in a short story by author Stewart Chaplin titled “Stained Glass Political Platform,” published in The Century Magazine June 1900.  As a term, weasel words were popularized in a 1916 speech by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.  I often write about plastic words being stretched, twisted, and molded to fit situations and distorted and disconnected from their accepted definitions, so I figured it was time to discuss weasel words.

Weasel Words

All clipart on this site has | Clipart Panda - Free Clipart ImagesWeasels words are vague qualifiers like “generally,” “most,” and “probably” that weaken your writing and speaking, reflecting a weak mind and poor logic. Speakers and writers use weasel words to avoid making direct statements, to mystify, and use vocabulary to play linguistic tricks upon the audience.  I heard a joke about weasel words and politicians:

How do you know a politician is lying?
They are speaking
!”

How often have you heard a speaker generalize or witnessed a writer probablize and thought, “How does the writer know?”  Check the weasel words.  Since weasel words have been around for so long, many speechwriters and editors know these tricks and constantly edit them.  But, when you can catch the speaker or author in candid moments, that is when you see just how weaselly they are about the facts and their logical conclusions.Scouring the bowels of the internet | Weasel Zippers | Cartoon jokes, Political cartoons ...

Consider for a moment the following three reasons why weasel words are employed.  When considering them, remember when you have weaseled on your speeches or writing, and self-evaluate to improve:

      • Uncertainty: You use weasels when you’re confused about your point, or you’re not sure what you want to write. Ambiguous terms allow you to equivocate. The result is you get something on paper, but it is cloudy.
      • Fear: You use weasels when afraid of making a bold statement. You may know what you want to write but don’t have the depth. These words give you an out.
      • Deniability: You use weasels to protect yourself or dodge taking a stand. If you don’t say anything firm, the thinking goes, you cannot be wrong.

As I have been writing on this topic, I have considered my writing and speaking habits and improved self-editing.  I am not afraid, uncertain, or need deniability, but I desire to assert more confidently, speak and write more authoritatively, and support others through language.  Hence, the need to understand language and improve how I speak and write."Weasel While You Work" on Vimeo

Examples of Weasel Words

Frankly, I was surprised at some of the weasel words that made the various lists of weasel words found across the Internet.  Some weasel words are absolute and are fully supported, others might be conditional weasel words based upon the conversation, and others might not be weasel words at all.  Now, out of all that blathering about weasel words, which would you edit as weaselly statements?  Yes, I wrote that on purpose!

Well

Experts said Experts have claimed Experts insist
Research proves Research shows Research concludes Researchers claim
Often Probably Possibly Some
Many Could be With all due respect Usually
Basically Somehow Virtually Just

Once identified, what does a person do?  Writers have it easier, for they can revise and edit.5 Tall Tales from 1 Small Mind | Science and Dogs

An author can delete the weasel word following the pattern below:

Read the resulting statement to see if it works.

      • If the message without weasels is confusing …
        Get clarity with your ideas. Determine what you want to say and then say it!
      • If the statement without weasels is too bold …
        Do you have the authority to make this statement; yes, leave it alone. No, quote the authoritarian, and use a reference.
      • If the resulting statement without weasels has no substance …
        Ask yourself whether or not you have something to say. If not, delete the sentence. If so, see the first bullet point again, clarify your ideas, and keep editing.

Speaking and eliminating weasel words requires planning.  You have to prepare what you want to say carefully, plan your audience, prepare and practice delivering your points, and repeat until it feels comfortable.  Speaking requires remaining consciously aware, listening to yourself, listening to questions, and making choices.  Many choices will be made in the preparation and planning stages, and these planning sessions preparing to speak remain critical to mentally speaking to convince.AMID BACKLASH CORRUPT & STUPID DEMOCRATS QUICKLY SWITCH FROM 'DEFUND' TO 'REFUND' THE POLICE ...

However, experience has proven that writing rules work well with speaking, in preparing and planning the message.

Speak aloud the statement to see if it works.

      • If the message without weasels is confusing …
        Get clarity with your ideas. Determine what you want to say and then say it!
      • If the statement without weasels is too bold …
        Do you have the authority to make this statement; yes, leave it alone. No, quote the authoritarian, and use a reference.
      • If the resulting statement without weasels has no substance …
        Ask yourself whether or not you have something to say. If not, delete the sentence. If so, see the first bullet point again, clarify your ideas, and keep editing.

Having spoken publicly and talked to other speakers, it was interesting to see those who spoke well and admitted to speaking into a mirror and those who spoke okay and did not practice the speech verbally.  I learned this data point, the Rule of 7-P’s came forcibly to mind, “Proper, Prior, Planning, Prevents, Purely, Poor, Performance.”  Practice is part of properly planning to avoid poor performances.

Knowledge Check!Regardless of delivery through speaking or writing, create the time to edit.  Create the time to plan and prepare, rehearse, and carefully edit to communicate powerfully.  Stop stooping to being a weasel; you are better than that and deserve to allow yourself the ability to achieve through communicating ideas more clearly and powerfully!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Atheism: A Religion Ascending

Father Mulcahy 2The Daily Signal reported some news that tickled my irony bone this morning, and I had to share.  Harvard University, an Ivy League school begun by puritans, has hired Greg Epstein as Chief Chaplain.  From the Daily Signal report, we find the following reasoning for the new Chief Chaplain’s ascension:

A Harvard Crimson survey of the university’s 2019 class found that students were two times more likely to identify as agnostic or as an atheist than average 18-year-olds, The New York Times reported.  About 21.3% of the class said they were agnostic, and 16.6% said they were atheists.  About equal shares of the students said they were Protestant (17%) or Catholic (17.1%), 10.1% said they were Jewish, 2.5% said they were Muslim, 3% said they were Hindu, and 12% said they were “other.”

I make no broad-stroke generalizations based upon a report that has passed through The New York Times and The Daily Signal; however, it is interesting to note the data is a unique finding.  Now consider that atheists have begun holding meetings, singing hymns, hosting children’s meetings.  If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, atheists are flattering those they proclaim not to be.Father Mulcahy 5

President General George Washington made the following comment in his farewell address to the nation:

Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

Returning to the axiom of flattery being found in imitation, then the appointment of a US Military Chaplain who is also an atheist is both a possibility and shortly a reality— bringing up some interesting questions for those atheists who continue to proclaim that atheism is not a religion.  More to the point, a military chaplain is required to deliver services in a host of different religious services.  How will that work for both the chaplain and the parishioners?  What about spiritual counseling?  Marriage counseling?  Other life and death style counseling chaplains are required to perform?Father Mulcahy 4

Having been a US Military Chaplains Assistant, who has fought for religious freedom for soldiers and the soldiers’ rights to worship how, where, or what they may, I find this discussion intriguing and interesting.  When his command was telling a Christian-Jewish Soldier that he had to choose which holidays he would be allowed to celebrate, my job was to help provide a voice of reason and history to aid the command in supporting the soldier and discover a compromise.  When two Wiccans wanted to hold a wedding, guess who got behind the happy couple to handle the administrative affairs?  When a soldier needed a chaplain but was uncomfortable talking to his own, guess who called the soldier a chaplain who was more comfortable to be around.

Knowledge Check!Religion and social standards, laws, and morals all cross and intertwine.  In the mixing, society builds a value system and a method of thinking and acting.  Here is the opportunity, do we learn and grow or do we denounce and castigate?  I have met good people among those calling themselves non-religionists.  I have met some grand and noble people among those who would call themselves religionists.  The opposite is also true; I have met some genuinely deplorable characters among both religionists and non-religionists.  It has been fun and exciting to meet truth seekers among the religionists and non-religionists and watch the conversations unfold regarding science, math, logic, psychology, and every form of human study.

Religion QuoteWhere freedom of religion is concerned, I believe The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints says it best in their tenth Article of Faith:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, and what they may.”

From my earliest days as a child, I have espoused similar beliefs.  I do not care how, what, or where you worship, what you worship, or when.  Provided your rights to worship, do not refuse another person their liberties to pursue life, liberty, and happiness, enjoy your faith.  I will even come along and observe occasionally.  I find the shift interesting as a social movement by Harvard, and I want to think that the move to ascend an atheist chaplain to Chief Chaplain is not a move with hidden purposes and political leanings.Religious Thought

I offer my genuine and heartfelt congratulations to Chaplain Epstein as he takes his new promotion at Harvard and look to see what develops over the coming years that brings more harmony amongst religionists and improves religious freedoms across America and the globe.  I would caution Harvard if this is a trick, many an honest person will be angry when the truth reveals hidden agendas, and I hope the caution is not needed.  I do look forward to the day when Wiccans and other “non-traditional religions” obtain military chaplains.  Not because it would cause problems, but because it would reflect truth in religious freedoms we espouse in the US Constitution.  If a Muslim Chaplain can serve harmoniously with a Baptist Chaplain and a Jewish Chaplain in the US Military, I see no problems with Atheists and Wiccans joining their ranks.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

For Those Confused: The Emotional Intelligence Farce!

Logo 3A colleague and I were recently discussing how emotional intelligence has taken over as a phrase with power but lacking definition, clarity, organization, and foundational logic.  Included below is my answer to my colleague and some thoughts on avoiding the constant maelstrom of business jargon passed around as useful tools for management.

In the world of business today, many people remain confused by current ‘buzz words,’ ‘jargon,’ and flat out misnomers fulfilling Rand’s description of “mental disintegration” (Locke, 2005, p. 430).  One of the most popular ‘buzz words’ in today’s business environment is ‘Emotional Intelligence (EI).’  Which in itself is both a misnomer and a confusion generator, where even professional researchers cannot pin down a definitive definition of ‘EI.’  Many of the descriptions about EI dwell upon variables that cannot be controlled by an individual, namely, the emotions of those people surrounding the problem.  The definitions purport the claim that a prediction of other people’s emotional reactions can occur through knowing one’s own emotional responses.

Not Passion's Slave - Emotions and ChoiceMany of the explanations for EI support the claim that improved leadership occurs as a result of conquering one’s emotional decisions.  Several of the definitions go so far as to promote that improved emotional control mitigates problems.  Concluding that if everyone were trained in emotional understanding, the world would be more productive.  What all of these definitions have in common is the assertion that emotions can be chosen (Solomon, 2003).  All the while castigating, Solomon (2003) who insisted that emotions are a choice, a judgment, and connected to social variables based upon historical interactions.  What is missing is the value of choosing emotions as a logical process in evaluating the problem socially and the consequences of acting emotionally when logic would be preferred.

Locke (2005) reported the continuing shift of researchers developing a new definitive definition for the same biological process of emotionally reviewing a problem, analyzing the variables, making decisions based upon the data discovered, and calling this emotional intelligence.  Thus, the question arises, what does emotional intelligence mean?  More specifically, can EI be measured and quantified without a definitive definition?  Finally, is emotional intelligence even worth studying, or learning, when, as a misnomer, the biological process of intelligence works best without emotion to clutter the mental landscape required to consider variables and make decisions rationally in a social context like employment situations?

ToolsHence the conclusion that emotional intelligence is a misnomer and the process currently labeled as ‘emotional intelligence’ is nothing more than intelligence being confused with emotions (Antonakis, Ashkanasy, & Dasborough 2005; Locke, 2005).  Antonakis, et al. (2009) and Locke (2005), both of whom supported the claim that emotional intelligence is a confusion of intelligence with emotions that creates chaos when applied together, supports the conclusion that emotional intelligence does not work as a concept. Thus, in employees’ identity transformation, using any emotional intelligence model remains wasted time and energy for the business leader already stretched thin on resources.

Breaking down the term emotional intelligence is key to understanding why Locke (2005) aptly calls emotional intelligence a misnomer. Emotion is a choice an individual makes as a response to social situations, their relationship to the environment, and a conscious decision for a response, as Solomon (2003) detailed.  The author described the mental and emotional choice relationship extensively, and Solomon (2003) is highly recommended for the business leader to read and understand. Smollan and Parry (2011) enhanced the emotion as a choice discussion in elaborating upon followers’ emotional responses to leaders in change management.  Inherent to the research of Smollan and Parry (2011) is that emotions do not affect intelligence.

Empathy v ApathyLewis (2000) and Van Kleef, Homan, Beersma, and van Knippenberg (2010) completed research where emotions of a negative type were selected and employed, then measuring the motivation and influence upon the team members were measured.  The study reflects similar conclusions and supports Solomon’s (2003) position that emotions are a choice and that emotional inclusion in a situation does not influence the intelligence of those involved, even though the followers’ emotional decisions are recognized as pieces to the social environment and relationship in small teams.  Neither Lewis (2000) or Van Kleef, et al. (2010) investigated the social connections between follower’s emotional response choices and the emotions in the situation, even though social interactions do influence emotional choices (Solomon, 2003).

Before discussing intelligence, Yalom (1980) adds a key variable to the discussion of the transformation of identity and small group development, individual agency, or the power of an agent to choose cognizantly, their response to external and internal stimuli, and environments. Boler (1968), regarded as the seminal authority on the understanding and application of agency, concluded that agency is a concept, and the need for people to have choices free of external influences and agency’s motivational power without control to spur production to greater heights. When people feel their choices are honored, that person, acting as an agent, will work harder to reflect their desires to be of worth to another entity.  Essentially, when I, as a leader, provide members of teams the ability to choose, they work harder and smarter as an extension of their agentic choices.  Naturally, they will decide that which empowers them and the team, and the team builds cohesion faster, all because of individual agency, not emotional intelligence mine or theirs.  Thus, the second part of this discussion becomes apparent; there is no need for an emotional intelligence model or emotional intelligence competency in the identity transformation process when agents are provided the ability to choose, without undue influence, the direction they individually want to travel.

Emotional OutburstAccording to APA.org (2018), intelligence is nothing other than the functioning of the intellect an individual possesses.  APA.org (2018) discusses how to compete more effectively through proper sleep, diet, education, etc., in intelligent functions; apparently, feeding the brain improves how the brain functions, thus increasing intelligence opportunities and competitive skills against others on an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) standardized test.  Locke (2005) explored the intelligence side of the misnomer emotional intelligence, further supporting that an individual’s intelligence, even if focused just on emotional responses, cannot and should not measure the intelligence of the individuals involved in a situation.  Finally, Joseph (2016) imported that understanding the leader-member exchange (LMX) and working to improve the LMX remains more important than being, whatever definition is currently accepted for, emotionally intelligent.

Thus, I conclude that agency in employment situations is more critical to building team member identities than a false claim of emotional intelligence.  That emotional intelligence remains not just a misnomer, but a complete fallacy is supported by research.  Even if all a person currently knows is their emotional choices as they respond to environmental stimuli, their potential to learn and become more intelligent remains independent of their individual emotional choices.  Locke (2005) mentioned the final reason for emotional intelligence being a misnomer, echoed by Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso (2004) among many others, emotional intelligence remains defined by each individual researcher, and the power to influence emotional intelligence remains in the popularity of the researchers, not sound science.  Hence, it would behoove every leader to flush emotional intelligence as a current business “buzz word” from their vocabulary and return to describing emotions as a choice separate from an individuals’ intelligence potential.

Plastic Words (The Tyranny of a Modular Language)Poerksen (1995) argued that plastic words provide no strengths within any field of endeavor, only weakness in word application, weakness in logic, and produce weaknesses in the audience to think and reason.  Poerksen (1995) analogized the plasticity of words as “Legos,” a building block system designed to thwart the audience’s intellect, instead of building the audience to understanding.  Poerksen (1995) remains adamant that stopping the practice of plasticizing words is not pessimistic or optimistic, merely a need to transmit messages of context and content, not flavor-of-the-month plastic words and phrases.  Words have meanings, and these meanings need to be grounded in a foundation of accepted definitions.  Thus, the researcher who would succeed should focus on employing words properly.  Finally, it should be realized that intelligence has morphed into one of those plastic words that everyone knows, no one can define, and every researcher, and practitioner, will plasticize for their own benefit.  A working definition of intelligence that I prefer is “The ability to acquire and use knowledge and skills, to continue learning and growing; through the manipulation of the environments surrounding the seeker of intelligence;” while not scientifically supported, this is my definition as based upon fundamental research.  The problem is that many researchers will have a different definition, and more practitioners even more definitions; hence the example of plastic words is demonstrated (QED), and the futility of emotional intelligence debunked.

How should a business leader avoid the maelstrom of buzz words, jargon, and popular beliefs?  The business leader wanting to avoid the vortex would first never stop learning.  Read a book.  Read peer-reviewed articles and decide upon their veracity by watching the effect on people, as individuals in your organization.  Engage in a debate with loyal oppositionists.  One of the best leaders I know has the most violent debates in the boardroom.  But, his team of C-Level leaders are friends, they are tight socially, and they all possess confidence and independence to act.  One would think the opposite was true, but in debating ideas, the team has grown to trust the others’ logic in which they work. This trust is communicated down through the business organization and is reflected in motivated employees of all levels and responsibilities.

Leadership CartoonEmotional Intelligence will die as a concept when the researcher’s and practitioner’s social popularity begins to subside.  What will not disappear is the continued use of plastic words to describe, detail, stretch, contort, and deceive people.  Hence, the third suggestion to avoid calamity brought about by jargon unleashed is to recognize plastic words, and if in doubt, refer to the first suggestion, read a book!

References

Antonakis, J., Ashkanasy, N. M., & Dasborough, M. T. (2009). Does leadership need emotional intelligence? The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 247-261. doi: 10.1016/j.leaqua.2009.01.006

APA.org. (2018). Psychology topics: Intelligence. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from http://www.apa.org/topics/intelligence/index.aspx

Boler, J. (1968). Agency. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 29(2), 165-181. doi: 10.2307/2105850.

Daus, C. S., & Ashkanasy, N. M. (2005). The case for the ability-based model of emotional intelligence in organizational behavior. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 453-466. doi:10.1002/job.321

Joseph, T. (2016). Developing the leader-follower relationship: Perceptions of leaders and followers. Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics, 13(1), 132.

Lewis, K. M. (2000). When leaders display emotion: How followers respond to negative emotional expression of male and female leaders. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 21(2), 221-234. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1099-1379(200003)21:2<221::AID-JOB36>3.0.CO;2-0

Lievens, F., & Chan, D. (2017). Practical intelligence, emotional intelligence, and social intelligence. In Handbook of employee selection (pp. 342-364). Routledge.

Locke, E. A. (2005). Why emotional intelligence is an invalid concept. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26, 425-431. doi: 10.1002/job.318

Mayer, J., Salovey, P., Caruso, D., & Sitarenios, G. (2003). Measuring emotional

intelligence with the MSCEIT™ v2.0. Emotion, 3(1), 95-105.

Poerksen, U. (1995). Plastic words: The tyranny of modular language (J. Mason, & D. Cayley, Trans.). University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press

Smollan, R., & Parry, K. (2011). Follower perceptions of the emotional intelligence of change leaders: A qualitative study. Leadership, 7(4), 435-462. doi: 10.1177/1742715011416890

Solomon, R. C. (2003). Not passion’s slave: Emotions and choice [Kindle 6.10 version].

Van Kleef, G. A., Homan, A. C., Beersma, B., &van Knippenberg, D. (2010). On angry leaders and agreeable followers: How leaders’ emotions and followers’ personalities shape motivation and team performance. Psychological Science, 21(12), 1827-1834

Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d05e/ba9b468ea6cdfa15b882ff3ed0977369562c.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.