3 of the Most Dreaded Words in Business

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For sure, the business world is full of words that are so contrived and over used that our eyes glaze over and we pay no attention. Paradigm and market-focused come to mind but there are hundreds that clutter the subject line of our emails. In fact, our eyes and ears have grown oblivious to most buzzwords and phrases like the safety video on airplanes that we just tune out. We even make a joke of it by listing the most onerous buzz words and playing buzzword bingo.

But there are exceptions – big exceptions. Certain words capture our attention like a flashing red alert. The words seem innocuous enough and are used often, but they make us stop all other activities. There are others that make us pause, but these three are to work, what the phrase, “we need to talk…” is to love.

Here are the three dreaded words that could change your life:

Unfortunately. A word that commands attention so much that it could be the only word in the message and we know that it means something bad is about to happen. For the job hunter it means brutal rejection no matter how wonderful your credentials or how many applicants there involved. For the internal email, it means a layoff is about to happen or some other negative change. Or it could mean that the cappuccino machine is broken or that the company masseuse is out sick. It is a word that always means bad news is about to follow. Unfortunately, the word unfortunately is used way too frequently.

Downturn. It could be the global economy is suffering a downturn. It could be that the industry is dealing with a downturn. Or, it could just me management is feeling a downturn in their collective bones. In all cases, something awful will be embedded in the next sentence. Words like layoffs, cuts, reductions, eliminations and headcount changes almost always circle around the word downturn. Often, the word is accompanied by a chart or diagram that shows an arrow going down like a cartoon out of the New Yorker magazine.

Performance. It seems an innocent enough word but “performance” engenders a sense of fear when we hear it. Rarely is it used in a sentence like “the team’s performance was incredible”. More often, the word is used to announce the forthcoming performance review, an event that brings to mind a trip to the dentist for a root canal. Or, the word will foreshadow the organization will be missing its goals. As in, “…the performance of the sales team is disappointing this quarter…” The two words “performance and unfortunately” are often used in the same notes.

When all three words are used in the same sentence? It’s time to get your resume together, and fast.

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