Three phrases to watch out for in your internal comms

Do you have any words or phrases you avoid in your internal communication?

An All Things IC client detests the word ‘enable’ and I avoid ‘in addition’ as it rarely adds anything.

Some of my in-house roles had lists of banned words, plus phrases we constantly corrected. When I was in-house at Visa for example, I regularly had to edit ATM machine (automated teller machine machine) as a phrase, to remove the second machine. It still jars now when I hear it, 14 years on!

I’m curious to know whether you have any particular words or phrases you steer clear of in your personal or professional writing. Do let me know.

Regular readers of my blog will know I’m not a fan of the word land.

That’s an understatement! I wrote about it a couple of years ago: The word I’ve banned from every internal communication conversation.

Today’s guest post has been written for All Things IC by Liz Overton. Liz is an Internal Communications Business Partner at Virgin Media O2. She’s a passionate copywriter and communicator who loves to craft language to enhance the employee experience.

Prior to entering the world of internal comms, Liz studied English and French at Warwick University and undertook various roles in channel marketing, content marketing, and B2B sales. You can find her on LinkedIn.

I’ll hand you over…

Warning: Use with caution – Three phrases to watch out for in your internal comms

Warning: Use with caution – Three phrases to watch out for in your internal comms

As a relative newcomer to the world of internal comms, I’m still in what I describe as my “honeymoon period”. A languages graduate who once yearned to be a journalist or theatre critic, I still can’t believe I finally get to work with words for a living. I think I’ve got the best job in the world. Corny, I know – but absolutely true.

Having said that, I do occasionally take off my rose-tinted glasses – particularly when it comes to copy. Because there are a few phrases that wind me up whenever I see them, hear them, or catch myself writing them.

Illogical? Maybe. Trivial? Probably. Petty? Most definitely. But try as I might to rise above it, these three phrases just grind my gears.

Let’s see if you agree…

1. “Why not?”

Ah, the opening words to a whole host of wonderful rhetorical questions. Why not sign up to our event? Why not try out our new app? Why not check out the latest expenses guidelines?

All reasonable enough questions, of course – but far too easy for a time-poor employee to curtly decline without a second thought. Because it’s not enough to ask “why not?”. We need to give people a reason to take action. A reason to click, read, vote, attend, or whatever it is we’re inviting them to do.

As internal communicators conveying important messages, we should be piquing our colleagues’ interest, enticing them to find out more, and giving them a crystal clear understanding of how they stand to benefit. Instead of pondering why someone shouldn’t do something, we should be explaining why they should.

2. “Sneak peek”*

This phrase is perhaps my biggest bugbear. Partly due to its insufferable overuse (seriously, look out for it – it’s everywhere!), and partly due to its misuse. Because what is a “sneak peek”, anyway?! I’ll spare you a copy and paste of the dictionary definition, but it indicates things like early access to news, or a behind-the-scenes preview.

Maybe a snippet of information shared while waiting for the big reveal, or a glimpse into something that usually goes undocumented. Pretty exciting, right?

Used correctly, sneak peek is a lovely term – the rhyme alone gets a thumbs up from me. But it is used far, far too much, in places where it is woefully inaccurate.

A “peek” is not the full picture; it is, funnily enough, a peek. And pedantry aside, semantics are a hugely important part of internal comms.

Words not only transmit messages, but set expectations and precedents.

And if everything is brazenly branded as a sneak peek, we risk de-emphasising the significance of those occasions where we really do have something juicy to share.

For instance:
A sneak peek of our new TV advert before it airs to the public?
Wow, that is a sneak peek – count me in!

A sneak peek of our latest whitepaper on the same day it goes to press?
Hmm, not very sneaky and certainly not very peeky. You’re not fooling me.

(I love the phrase sneak peek. I use it a lot to share behind-the-scenes content from All Things IC – Rachel).

3. “Just for you”

Another phrase that can be perfectly palatable, if only it were used correctly. I don’t mean to nitpick, but surely “just for you” should mean… err… just for you? For example, I don’t think an email newsletter with content, offers or information that is sent to all employees (or customers, for that matter) can legitimately be described as “just for you”.

It’s for everyone – and that’s just fine. Why do some communicators and marketers feel the need to label something as exclusive when it simply isn’t? As in the case of “sneak peek”, I firmly believe that the misuse of such phrases risks alienating readers by attempting (inadvertently or otherwise) to mislead them.

Yet again, the disingenuous implication that they are getting something unusually special dilutes the effect of the truly unique things that occur much less frequently, but with much greater impact.

Phew – rant over. Thanks for sticking with me.

I recognise, of course, that my opinions on these phrases might not be shared by many (or, indeed, any!) of Rachel’s readers. Copy is incredibly subjective.

We each imbue words with meaning in our own inimitable way, and I’m sure I’m guilty of trotting out phrases that grate on my readers in the same way that “sneak peek” grates on me.

But if that’s the case – I’d love to know! I’m keen to connect with other internal communicators and would be curious to compare notes on our various pet peeves. You can find me here on LinkedIn.

*To add insult to injury, this phrase is misspelled all too often as “sneak peak”. An easy mistake, but infuriating nonetheless. Unless, perhaps, you work for a company that runs mountaineering expeditions and love a good pun!

Post author: Liz Overton.

I really enjoyed this Liz, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wonder if this resonated with you, what’s top of your list?

If you are an in-house internal communicator who would like to write for the All Things IC blog, do get in touch with your idea. You’ll find blogging guidelines on this site too.

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Thank you for stopping by,

Rachel Miller.

First published on the All Things IC blog 13 October 2021.

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