Friday, November 13, 2009

The Unexpected Word

I'm back in the game of reaching out to people who owe me nothing, and from whom I need something. It's a tricky little world because half the time, catching their attention to even read your email is a challenge, let alone bringing them over to want to help you. Most of the time, I don't have a phone alternative, either because they are busy crazy people with insane travel schedules, or because I have never actually met them. However, I do have a little trick - and I'd like to share it with you.

Use an unexpected word

That's it. There are business appropriate words in the world like synergy and appreciate and expedite. People barely even read those words in a paragraph. They are filler words. There are business inappropriate words like shucks and F$%# and pretty please. They just seem off-color or childish or pleading. You never want to seem desperate.

There's a third class of words which are not, strictly speaking, inappropriate. But, they are also not standard. They tend to get people's attention.  Recently I used the word tragic to refer to the state of a web page. Tragic is just melodramatic, but it isn't pointedly critical (like confusing or ugly might be). I just said "our logo looks tragic" and requested someone replace it with a new one. Now, it was nontrivial to update the logo and involved a few people, but the guy jumped right on it, noting that "we can't have tragic logos!" 

It works all the time. How are you? Peachy. Not fine or okay. Swell would also work. You aren't glad, you're overjoyed with something someone did. It isn't all hyperbole - it just needs to be unexpected. Almost always, theya re adjectives, but you can use verbs too, particularly when describing your own actions. I'm tiptoeing through my inbox. I'm lamenting my to do list. It makes people hear what you have to say because they are taken off guard. And once they are listening, usually they are pleased for the amusement and are inclined to help. 

Try it out. Let me know how it goes for you. 

1 comment:

Capt. BS said...

There's a 3-pixel line to be walked here. I remember writing a short treatise in which I argued against the death penalty using such poignant concluding statements as "and what's THAT all about?" The instructor blarney-stoned that my writing style was "campy" yet "somehow effective" and could become quite persuasive if I dispensed the campiness in moderation. The takeaway: replacing cliches and oft-utilized words with fresher equivalents does tend to keep the reader awake long enough to make a point, and sometimes, in this under-salted temporal existence, that's all that matters.