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Vacuous Language Does Not Add Value to Negotiations

-I do not have a magic wand. -Former President Obama: There is no magic bullet for gas prices. -“Real change means real change.” Former Speaker of the US House -“We move forward by moving forward.” Steve, Nonprofit. -“I responded in what I thought was the most truthful-or least truthful-manner, by saying no.” James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence. -“The only way to get our economy going again, is to get our economy moving.” Former US Speaker of the House Boehner. -Guest on NPR Diane Roehm Show: “I will tell you what I know.” -“What I say is what I say.” Former President Donald Trump -“I am going to do what I am going to do.” Former DC Mayor Gray. -This is not a panacea. -No one promised you are Rose Garden; I never said it would be easy. -Things are tough all over. -America Idol Fantasia was asked what she learned per the experience. She replied, I learned I am somebody. -I cannot wipe the slate clean. -She is human. -It is what it is. (This desperate filler phrase is a longer version of “whatever,” and a shorter version of “I have nothing helpful to contribute, but don't want to stop talking yet.) -because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know….2/2002, Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense. Most people do not think about vacuous or vacant language but they use them daily. The problem is, vacant language does not add value to the conversation, to the negotiation. In fact, vacant language is usually diverting from the goals. First, let’s identify what we mean by vacuous language. Second, we will speculate why the language is used and Thirdly, describe what might be a more effective way to communicate. Definition of Vacant Language or Expression Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines “vacant” as having no content, void, devoid of thought or reflection, or not seem to be thinking about anything. Examples of Vacant Language. -Sluggers Baseball Negotiation (used at George Washington University Law School and AMA-American Management Association) Stadium Owner Ted is negotiating with Team Owner Barbara. --Ted: Maintaining this stadium is costly. --Barbara: I have real salaries, real expenses. Comment: What do either of these statements add to the negotiation? Nothing! -Song, Let It All Go by Birdy and Rhodes: Lyrics include, “I’ve been waiting for you to say something real.” Comment: What would the “real” response be in that communication? -U.S. Army’s Special Forces Command: General Michael X. Garrett was asked about Blacks being under represented in the Special Forces. He responded, There are no perfect answers. Comment: Is this quote helpful or enlightening? Probably not. -HBO’s The UnDoing: Expert Lawyer asserts to Actress Nicole Kidman, “I have no magic wand. I cannot wipe the slate clean.” For Kidman, this is not comforting and adds no substance. -Thermal Scanners: The term “foolproof” means never failing, no risk. The makers of the thermal scanners that have become ubiquitous at factory entrances also acknowledge their equipment isn’t foolproof. Comment: Is there any one who thought that they were? Any value added? -White House Pandemic Member Doctor Debra Birk: In speaking of the COVID vaccine, she declares it is not a magic bullet. First, this adds no comfort to the listeners and second, most folks probably realize this. - Actor Ray Wilson (Dwight on The Office) has a podcast and declared: “We make stuff that matters.” Will this persuade viewers to listen? Most likely not. -NBC Reporter: “Parents do not have all of the answers.” -How to prevent a recession? President Trump said “we can do all we can do” when asked how to prevent a recession during the coronavirus epidemic, 3/6/2020.

-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the Presidential Impeachment issue. She asserted, “If we want to do it, we’ll do it. If we don’t, we won’t.”

-The tasing of an unarmed man at the Metro Station: Metro Director responded, “The investigation must be thorough and rigorous.”

Comment: Did the victim find this comforting? Probably not.

Vacuous Words are Related to Irritating or Target Words Ohio State University School of Business Professor Roy Lewicki conducted a fascinating research study comparing the behaviors of effective communicators with average communicators. The results? -Effective communicators summarized three times as much as average communicators. -Effective, asked questions five times as much as average…. -Average communicators used irritating phrases and words five times as much as effective….

Source: “The Behavior of Successful Persuaders,” Neil Rackham, Huthwaite Research Group Limited, Negotiation, Roy Lewicki

Vacuous phrases and words are similar to target words. They tend to irritate the listeners. Also related to Empty Words: Noun. empty words pl (plural only) talk with little meaning, a message that seems to contain meaningful content but does not. Avoid Vacuous Re-Assurances: How many times have you heard about a crisis and someone response with vacuous reassurances? -It will get better. -I know it will be found. -I know she will be found. -It will work out in the end, you’ll see.

"Everything works out in the end." Rock Bank Kodaline

-"Nobody said it would last forever." Singer Lewis Capaldi

Why Do Talkers Use Vacuous Language? There are a variety of reasons why folks use vacant language. One, may be a communication habit. It may be subconscious. Second, vacant language is often a “filler;” that is, there is nothing else to add and so, the vacuous language. Third, is that one may not even be aware that the words or phrases that they are using have no value, are empty. How to Improve Communication Void of Vacant Language. The easiest way to avoid vacuous language is to simply replace it with “silence.” To avoid vacuous reassurances, the National Alliance Mental Illness has a great slogan: IT IS OK TO BE NOT OK: This slogan captures empathy which may be the better approach. Maybe a response like, -I know you are worried. -Let’s keep hope and keep searching. -Let’s follow the directions of the doctor. -I know you are surprised. -Back to the Sluggers Baseball Stadium/Team example: Maybe a better approach would be to simply omit these statements or create an empathetic statement: I know you are concerned about finances. I will review all of my financial statements to ensure that they are as efficient as possible. James Crawford, Member of the Senatus Neutrals Panel suggests this:

Ted: OK, we both have problems but we both have a common interest in having a stadium to play in.

Barbara: Yes, and we both have a need for players in the stadium, otherwise it just sits there draining money.

Crawford’s recommendation is excellent since both Ted and Barbara are demonstrating that they have commonalities which sets the stage for a smooth negotiation.

Conclusion: Columbus, Ohio, Attorney Terry Wheeler has a different perspective on Vacuous Language: I’ll just add that it depends on the negotiation strategy that a person is implementing. In some disputes, it is advantageous for a party to engage in a competitive positional negotiation in which they will use many competitive tactics such as vacuous language. If parties are engaging in cooperative positional or interest based language then vacuous language is less like to be used because it is less likely to be beneficial to achieving one’s goals and interests.” So, whatever, you call it, Vacuous, Vacant or Empty Language, These type of Phrases or Words are not helpful in communication. They do not add value to the conversation. So, why are they used? Maybe, out of habit. Maybe, lacking the awareness. Maybe, nothing else to say so they are “fillers.” How to improve your communication is to simply avoid them. Maybe substitute silence.


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