OK, so this might seem silly, but I want to tell you about one of my pet peeves…
I mean, I know it’s no big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it just bugs me, you know?
You might not be bothered by it, but I am…
It’s when people provide a lengthy preamble before making a statement or asking a question and, in doing so, impress upon the audience exactly what they were hoping to avoid.
See what I just did?
Don’t do that.
Why do we hedge our statements by including in them the very thing we DON’T want to hear?
You want hegemony? Don’t hedge your bets.
The phrase “hedge your bets”, according to Etymology Online, dates back to the 1600s and originated from the concept of planting a hedge to enclose and protect a piece of land. The hedge reduces the risk of harm, just as people hedge their bets at the casino or sports book, betting the opposite of their original bet, to ensure a profit.
Like how hedge funds invest in both long and short stocks to protect against market fluctuations.
Like how hedgehogs… no, never mind. Hedgehogs have nothing to do with this. But they sure are cute.
You know what’s not a helpful hedge? The unnecessary preamble.
If you’re trying to protect against potential rejection or ridicule, why would you spoon feed your audience the very things you were hoping to avoid?
If you have something to say… Say it.
Confidently. Convincingly. Compellingly. Conversationally.
And, most importantly… Concisely.
The exposition – or set-up – of a statement should exist only to give necessary or appropriate context. It shouldn’t take away from the content itself.
Here are three examples of Horrible Hedging:
- An attendee takes the mic during a conference Q&A:
“I have a silly question you’ve probably been asked a million times before…”
What’s the question? Is it truly a silly question? Have I been asked it a million times? Now I’m wondering what the asker is wondering and find my mind wandering when it should be focused on listening. Most likely I’ll offer the obligatory reply, “That’s not a silly question,” or “There are no silly questions.”
Just. Ask. The. Question.
2. An employee raises her hand at the brainstorming meeting:
“This is probably a stupid idea, but…”
NO NO NO! Don’t say that. No one wants to hear your stupid idea. If it’s truly a stupid idea, then go back to the drawing board. If it’s not a stupid idea, but you’re afraid the other meeting attendees might think it is, why would you put the idea that it’s stupid in their heads before you even get a chance to find out if it’s stupid? I mean, talk about stupid. That’s stupid!
Just. Offer. The. Idea. Stand up for what you want to say. If you discover it’s not a good idea, you’ll either defend it or drop it and deliver another, better one.
3. A job candidate points out her lack of qualification in a cover letter:
“Though I only have 3 of the 4 years of experience you require for this role…”
If you want the job, why would you start with reasons why they shouldn’t give it to you? Rather than offering shortcomings, cite the experience and skill and attributes you possess. (“In my 3 years at Corporation X, I grew our sales profits x%”).
When we’re worried someone won’t like what we’re offering, we think acknowledging potential issues up front will better convince them. But by putting those fears front and center, we might be creating an issue where there wasn’t one to begin with.
Cut it out.
Lose the preamble.
Just ask the question.
Offer the idea.
Apply for the job.
You want to take root, grow and flower?
Trim that hedge.
Valerie Gordon is a lifelong storyteller, a 10-time Emmy-winning producer and the founder of career and communication strategy firm The Storytelling Strategist and the Commander-in-She blog. She speaks at conferences and works with corporations to engage and train employees to use storytelling to advocate for their careers, build strong teams, and ascend the leadership ladder.