Poorly Placed Platitudes Make Others Peevish

There are many quotes about effective public speaking/persuasion. One of my favorites comes from Winston Churchill,

“Opening amenities are often opening inanities.” 

His point—which I make to my clients ad nauseam—is that the only time you are (somewhat) guaranteed others’ attention is the few seconds before you open your mouth. To then fill those first moments with, “I’d like to begin by thanking X and Y and Z…” is a wasted opportunity. 

(For the record, I recommend beginning your speech, talk, or lecture with a story, a statistic, or a question.)

As I tell my clients, “Thanking people at the beginning of your talk reads as flattery. Thanking them at the end reads as sincerity.” 

In other words: A properly placed platitude will get you everywhere.

What is another instance of a poorly placed platitude? Telling someone, “I’m so sorry that happened….” and then briskly moving along to your own agenda.

If you disagree, think about the last customer service interchange you had with someone who cut you off mid-stream to say, “I’m sorry that happened. How can I help?” Did you feel heard? Did you feel s/he truly was sorry? 

What do I recommend instead? Well, as someone is telling you their story of trauma (real or what I refer to as “first-world” i.e. “I can’t believe I spilled my $6 coffee all over my leather car seats!”) they will find you far more sympathetic if you say something along the lines of, “Oh my gosh, that sounds so frustrating/irritating/upsetting.”

(FYI: Please do not, then, tell a story about how you spilled your $15 coconut water all over your Porsche. Listening is not a competitive sport.) 

Once they are finished blowing off steam, you can tell them how very sorry you are about what occurred: It’s the perfect moment for that particular platitude.

Frances Jones Cole signature