'Feeling' is Inadequate to Express Convictions
by Marti Smiley Childs and Jeff March

The language of decision-makers often reveals their reticence to take risks and expose themselves to potential criticism. When confronting difficult choices, executives tend to use veiled terms to insulate themselves from accountability.

In a board meeting of a corporation struggling to extract itself from a sea of red ink, Richard, a top-level executive, was asked to offer a solution.

"I feel the company ought to divest itself of the trucking division," said Richard. "We could buy shipping services and rid ourselves of all that overhead."

Not so quick, Rick. Stop right there. Put that cab into reverse and back up a couple of sentences. Richard "feels" the company ought to shut down the trucking division. An expression of feeling is a limp, tentative way of suggesting such a momentous action. Yet people frequently use "feel" in that way without getting questioned for it. A guy hauling in a high six-figure salary owes more than sharing his "feelings."

A feeling is derived from inference or internal impressions. A "feeling" is an emotionally based response or perception. A feeling can be a sensation, a state of consciousness, or an impression. While feelings are distinctly human, they're not intellectual. And they're certainly nothing to bank on.

A supposition is not much stronger. If Richard had said, "I suppose we should sell the trucking division," that would be indicative of shallowness, and would create the perception that the suggestion to get out of trucking was only the second thought to pop into his mind -- the first being, "Gee, I really don't know what we should do."

What if Rick had said "perhaps we should sell the trucking division"? The adverb "perhaps" sounds genteel, but it is weak and indefinite.

Or suppose Rick retorts, "I gather that we should jettison the trucking division." In that sense, the verb "gather" means to conclude or infer, but its use in this context transparently indicates lack of Rick's own analysis. He'd be more credible if he had said, "Folks, I reckon we oughta get out of the trucking business." That would at least indicate that he's drawing upon his own intuition rather than relying on prevailing opinion.

Trying to sound shrewd and analytical, Rick chooses slick rhetoric: "I suspect we should dissolve the trucking unit." Nope. The verb "suspect" really means to surmise based on distrust. You may suspect that Colonel Mustard is the culprit. Richard, however, doesn't have a clue.

What if he instead had used the word "surmise"? That's a cotton-candy word, utterly lacking in substance, because it means to arrive at a conclusion without sufficient supporting evidence. It's the functional equivalent of saying "speculate."

Rick may instead say, "I sense we should reduce overhead." Knowing what he THINKS, however, would be more tangible and valuable than knowing what he senses. The act of thinking ordinarily involves conscious formulation of a position by reasoning and deduction, rather than mere emotional response to a stimulus.

But even that is not as compelling as knowing what someone BELIEVES. A person who believes in an idea accepts it as truth, and has placed faith or trust in its veracity based on analysis. Belief is far more powerful and convincing than feeling or supposition. Someone who issues a proclamation or advances a proposal as a firm belief based upon hard, supporting evidence is on firm ground.

In one important respect, however, stating what you believe is not much more motivating than telling how you feel, because both are qualifying statements that function as disclaimers. After boasting about optimal gas mileage, automobile manufacturers demur, saying in small print or in a quietly blurted sentence, "of course, your actual mileage may vary." If Jane says, "I believe we should organize the training department under the marketing division rather than human resources," she is also making an unstated but implicit acknowledgment: "Of course, that's just my opinion, and you and others may disagree."

The most effective approach is to clearly and unequivocally declare a conclusion derived from logical interpretation of relevant, indisputable evidence. Here's such a compelling statement: "My analysis shows that in addition to an immediate infusion of capital generated by sale of the trucking division, the company would recoup $350,000 annually in savings in salaries, maintenance, fuel, workers' compensation, liability and medical insurance costs, and other operating expenses."

Consider that approach when you want to instill certainty and convey conviction. You'll feel better when you do.

EditPros / writing, editing & employee training
Marti Childs  marti@editpros.com Jeff March jeffm@editpros.com
423 F Street, Suite 206, Davis, CA 95616-4153
(530) 759-2000;  fax (530) 759-2051 http://www.editpros.com

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