How People Say Nothing and Get Away with It

Everyone runs into situations where you need to give an answer when you don’t have one to give.  Many people when interviewed, are excellent at saying nothing but coming across as very knowledgeable.  Let’s take a look at a few examples:

1. You can’t predict the future.   Someone pointed out the fallacy in this statement.  Yes, you can predict the future.  People do it all the time.  The things you cannot do is accurately predict the future.

2. It will get worse before it gets better.  Setting low expectations.  TV weather forecasters do it often.  They might predict a bad snowstorm.  If it’s messy, they were correct.  If the storm passes, people are so happy, they don’t care that you were wrong.

3. All options are on the table.  Also, “We are considering all the options.”  It means we are thinking about it and not ready to give an answer yet.

4. Anything can happen.  Also, “Expect the unexpected.”  I have no idea what’s coming, so I’m not going to commit myself.

5. There has never been a better time...  You hear it in advertising a lot.  It sounds better than “I want you to buy now.”

6. “Is the Prime Minister in trouble already?”  You are floating an idea without taking responsibility.

7. “May.”  It’s another non-committal word.  “This solution may not be as good as it looks.”  Maybe it is.  Maybe it isn’t.  Another way of introducing doubt without taking ownership.

8. That was then, this is now.  Maybe you want to renegotiate something.  You are rationalizing the old rules don’t apply because you don’t like them.

9. Pennies on the dollar.  The expression implies a deep discount.  Technically, 100 pennies add up to one dollar.  Once you go a cent below $ 1.00, we are now priced at “pennies on the dollar.”

10. I hear you.  A very useful expression.  You acknowledge the other person is making a point.  You are not committing yourself to agreeing with them.

11. This could be really, really good or really, really bad.  They are attempting to say: “It could go either way.  I really have no idea.”  All they’ve done is eliminated the middle ground.

12. +Let me see what I can do.  Another useful expression.  It sounds like you want to help.  Maybe you really do.  It doesn’t commit the speaker to any action or outcome.  It’s possible they can do nothing.

13. Nothing creates anxiety like uncertainty.  It sounds intelligent, but all it says is “We get upset when we don’t know what will happen next.”  We rarely do.

14. No one is suggesting you stop.  Another of those double negative expressions.  The unspoken part is “no one is suggesting you keep doing it” either.

15. We are in uncharted territory.  Yet another way of saying: “I have no idea what will happen next.”

16. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Famous in the mutual fund world.  In life there are very few guarantees.  Ben Franklin said something about death and taxes.  This statement implies if something historically follows a cyclical pattern, it won’t in the future, even if the only unknown is the length of the cycles.

17. A broken clock is still right twice a day.  It’s another way of saying, “Given enough time, even a contrarian will be right.

18. I don’t like to make a decision before all the facts are in.  “Rush to judgment” fits into this category too.  Also “Too soon to tell.”  In most cases, decisions must be made in a timely manner with incomplete information.  All the facts are rarely all in front of you.  

19. Cooler heads will prevail.  This implies in times of crisis, people will take a step back, analyzing the situation for the best possible outcome.  It rarely happens when both sides are polarized, digging in their heels.  It’s a hopeful statement.

20. It varies.  Also, “It’s complicated” and “There are no easy answers.”  The person speaking is attempting rationalize why they are avoiding committing themselves to a specific answer or position.

Would you use statements like these?  Of course not!  It’s useful to recognize when someone else is doing it.