Is It Okay To Cuss In Your Client Communications?
September 6, 2016
by Wendy Cook
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This article is inspired by John Oliver’s outrageously entertaining attack on many retirement plans’ high fees and opaque arrangements. It’s watchable, worthwhile and free to share. You’d think this piece would go viral faster than you could say “teacup pig.” (If you’re not catching the reference, watch the video.)
But there’s a catch. The language is so salty that the video could serve double duty as a cow lick. It makes McDonald’s fries seem like health food. You get my drift. One commentator in an investment forum I track said the piece is “stunningly good,” but another said that “the language is just a bit too much” to share.
See for yourself if you haven’t yet.
Should you use cuss words in your communications?
Some of the advisors with whom I work regularly pepper their pieces with their own special blend of George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” Oliver’s popularity puts all of ours to shame, and those seven-plus words aren’t slowing him down. Like us, our clients are adults; if we like the video, why wouldn’t they? And what’s Oliver got that we haven’t?
It’s not that you should never, ever use a cuss word or share content from somebody who has. But when you do, you need to know what you’re about, because they’re heavy words indeed. Even Carlin agrees with that. “There’s a lot going on there,” he muses, “besides the literal translation and the emotional feeling.” He even refers to his list as the “heavy seven.”
Like the difference between a cayenne and a bell pepper, a cuss word is going to call attention to itself in ways that no everyday word can. Put another way, a cuss word is more like an “!!!” or ALL-CAPS then a period or lowercase letters.
So before you use them, ask yourself this simple question: Will the choice word(s) strengthen my message or overpower it?
Oliver is a master at knowing the difference. That’s why he can spice it up as he does, and it not only still works (for me, anyway) but works far better than had he been more mild-mannered. It’s also why you may be able to share posts like Oliver’s in a less formal venue such as your blog. Basically, he’s better at it than we are. (If you do decide to use this sort of content, just introduce the link with a short “strong language” alert, so readers can decide for themselves if they want to go there with you.)
Speaking of blog shares, venue matters too. You can be looser in your conversations and in conversational blogs or videos than you can – or probably should be – in more formal presentations such as a white paper, company website or brochure. In the latter, cuss words may not only overpower your message, they’re likely to derail any train of thought and leave it smoldering beside the tracks.