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Don't Abuse Your Message With Adjectives

From Career Tips, 2015 Volume 2, February



What is your immediate, visceral reaction when you see a statement that starts out like this?


"Outstanding executive ..."


Even if you don't explicitly think it, isn't your attitude something along the lines of "I'll be the judge of whether he's an outstanding executive?"


The inclusion of that one innocent adjective sets me up with a negative mindset, seeking to disprove a statement that can come across as bragging. And it's even worse when it's delivered aloud!


I think people make this mistake out of a misplaced concern that I, the reader or listener, won't immediately recognize that you are, in fact, outstanding. They don't want to leave anything to chance, so they state it up front.


On the other hand, what if you said:


"Executive known for transforming troubled operations."


This sets up an entirely different psychology. Now instead of telling me how outstanding you are, you are making a matter of fact statement that starts down the road of leading ME to conclude you are outstanding. If I convince myself of a great attribute you possess, that is very powerful. If you have to tell me you possess it, I'm not going to be as sold on it, or willing to speak about it on your behalf.


Now don't make the mistake of including both:


"Outstanding executive known for transforming troubled operations."


You have already given me the 'proof' in the end of the statement, so starting out with the adjective is superfluous and brings the statement back to that 'bragging' psychology.


By the way, did you notice my inclusion of an implicit third party endorsement"known for"?


I could have just said "Executive who transforms troubled operations," and that would have been good. However, "known for" implies that others have observed my ability, which adds to the credibility (if I can back that up).


Third party endorsements always soften the 'bragging' quotient. Think about where you might include "known for", "recognized for", "observed to" or some similar phrase to soften your own presentation. Just be careful not to over-use it!


Here's another variation on the adjective issue - the person who uses the statement "Excellent communication skills." This meaningless and forgettable phrase does nothing to advance your cause, and in fact may do irreparable harm if I later conclude that your communication skills are only average - how am I to trust any other statement you've made?


It would be much better to simply show me the proof of your communication skills, and let me draw my own conclusions, such as with:


"Presents technical subjects in engaging manner to non-technical audiences."


Look at your résumé, cover letters, marketing brochures, etc. and see where you've included any adjectives. Think about how you might instead include a matter of fact statement of the results you bring to the table or the problems you can solve.



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