Friday, December 14, 2007

Better Safe Than Witty

I'm addressing this to the younger readers out there because those of you who have been around the block a few times will know this as a Mother Truth:

Trite expressions serve a valuable purpose.

They are not overused because people are lazy, although they are a form of short-hand. They are frequently employed because they are safe and, in the workplace, safe is often a very good place to be.

Let me give an example: You have to write a note to a friend who just got a promotion or who recently suffered a career setback. You can try to be a George Kaufman or Mark Twain, scribble a few witty lines and hope your words will be smiled over and cherished over the years can be boring and safe.

I recommend the latter.

The real message is that you took the time to write; it's not the content. You don't need to be clever and wise. You need to be safe and supportive. Being witty carries several risks:

  • Your comments may not be that wise and wonderful;

  • Your tone may be perceived as flippant and perhaps even uncaring; and

  • The wit may carry a meaning you didn't intend to convey.

The biggest danger is that the wittier the remarks, the greater is the risk that the note will become a celebration of the sender instead of the receiver. That goes against the entire purpose of the communication.

In short, it's not about you. It's about them.


Anonymous said...

Wise words, my friend. I never thought of it that way.

Michael Wade said...


I'm glad they made sense. Thanks!