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Great Communication Skills: Avoiding Clichés

Posted by on March 28, 2012

We’ve all done it: used a really bad cliche to illustrate a point. But could it actually damage our ability to communicate? Sounds a bit far-fetched, but it’s important to use caution.

Are Cliches Really so Bad?

It’s so easy to fall back on a familiar saying, or idiom, in order to convey your meaning (message) when speaking or writing to someone else. What you’re trying to do is shorten the length of time it takes to convey that feeling or idea. Often these sayings are trite and overused, and therefore taken for granted. You guessed it: They become cliche!

Great Communication Skills

The problem is, the meaning you (the sender) assign may not be the meaning understood by the other person (the receiver). Many variables can interfere with the message the receiver hears, such as:

  • Sender or receiver’s native language
  • Receiver’s familiarity with your choice of phrase
  • Differences in regional dialect
  • Overall tone of the conversation
  • Power inequalities, i.e. boss to employee
  • Using mixed metaphors

One of the characteristics of great communication skills is being able to tailor your conversation to the person(s) you’re speaking to. To that end, you must know when it’s okay to use certain phrases and when they should be “avoided like the plague.” Idioms can cause a lot of confusion and even offense, especially when conducting international business.

Some Cliches to Avoid

  • Barking up the wrong tree
  • Burn your bridges
  • Burning the candle at both ends
  • Come hell or high water
  • Cut off your nose to spite your face
  • Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
  • Get your ducks in a row
  • Go with the flow
  • Keep your eye on the ball
  • No pain, no gain
  • Push the envelope
  • The big picture
  • The whole nine yards
  • Think outside of the box
  • You can take that to the bank
  • You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip

These are just some of the sayings that are easily misunderstood or misused in conversation. Occasional use is okay, as long as you’re sure the phrase is appropriate to your topic, will be understood by the receiver, and helps to illuminate your meaning.

What are some of your favorite sayings? Are they classic cliches, or unique to you? Ask yourself: Are my words conveying my true meaning, or do they add confusion? What else can I say to get my point across clearly?

CGWA is proud to offer our Interpersonal Communication Skills program, which expertly guides participants through the process of becoming savvy communicators.



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