The Difference Between “Sorry” and a Buzzword

The systematic action of saying you’re sorry and using a buzzword have totally opposite effects.

Imagine you work at a coffee shop. Someone asks for you and orders an extra sweet caffè latte. You get one.

As you go back to the table, you trip and spill the entire drink on your customer’s lap.

“I’m sorry”, you say. “It’s okay, these things happen”, he replies. You get another one.

As you’re reaching the table, someone pushes you and you drop the caffè latte on your customer’s lap.

“I’m so sorry”, you say. “That’s ok…”, he reassures you.

Aiming to redeem yourself in front of this unlucky customer, you say the next caffè latte is on the house and go get another one.

You’re extra careful as you go back with the drink, serve it, all is well. The customer sips.

It has no sugar and he makes sure you are aware of that, since he ordered extra sweet caffè latte.

You once again say you’re sorry.

The irated customer leaves with a clear grim in his face, not without complaining about the service to everyone he passes by.

Here’s the thing. Behavioral economics teaches us that the repetition of saying you’re sorry tends to make the expression in itself increasingly meaningless.

In order words, the more you say you’re sorry, the less impact that has on another person.

Buzzwords, however, have the opposite dynamic.

The more you use them, the more power they get, because by repeating them you’re basically telling the room, “this is normal”, “it’s ok to use this”, “feel free to repeat after me”.

That’s how movements start. And industry lingo expressions as well.

The more I read about psychology, the more I realize we’re extremely sensible to all types of stimuli around us, and the words we use are not an exception.

But while repeated manifestations of sorrow tend to produce a weakening effect of the expression among the room, reinforcing the usage of meaningless fluff actually makes the room feel more powerful, able and confident in using them as well.

Important stuff to keep in mind when we’re trying to make sense of things by creating senseless expressions to talk about them. Buzzwords are the opposite of saying you’re sorry because the more you use them, the more they become accepted.

A buzzword by definition is the single most dangerous manifestation of format over substance. One that creates all sorts of obstacles when we’re actually trying to speak the same language.

Carmine Gallo put it best:

Jargon—language that is specific to a particular industry—creates a roadblock to the free and easy exchange of ideas. I have attended countless meetings in which two people who work for different divisions of the same company cannot understand the jargon used by the other.

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