Whack The Weasel

Seth Godin wrote a cautionary post last week on “weasel words”.

The upshot? Telling the truth is a better tactic than trying to hype, evade or downright lie. Telling the truth builds trust. It can pique interest and help connect you to the right people.

I’d like to expand Seth’s definition a tad to include words that evoke even shades of weasel. In professional services, this means making statements that anyone could (and probably has). Pronouncements that are so bland and expected, they convey nothing.

Here are a few examples of wasted weasel words (typos left intact and names disguised), from live websites of boutique professional service firms:

“Why XYZ? XYZ’s team members approach the business as a whole. The team is business focused with extensive knowledge of technology. In this way they are able to identify the root cause of business problems, define & implement solutions. Secondarily, the XYZ team are experts in building internal teams to define and implement the solutions thus reducing internal resistance to change.” (Huh? You do what?)

“We provide outstanding service to our clients because of our attention to details.” (Really—they hire you just for that?)

“XYZ believes in the Value of Relationships and views every client relationship like a partnership; truly believing that their success is a result of your success.” (Oh please. Just because it’s capitalized doesn’t make it so.)

“We believe in the value of relationships. We view every client relationship like a partnership, and truly believe that our success is a result of your success.” (Better English, but still not memorable.)

“Our dedication to quality client service has brought us to the Internet as we endeavor to provide exceptional and quality professional service and guidance to our valued clients. “(Oh, you’ve made it to the internet. And you “endeavor” to be great. Boy, let me grab my checkbook!)

Take a good look at how you describe yourself and your team. If you’re using weasel words, save your breath. Rethink what’s truly unique and special about you and your services.

And then, whack the weasel.


  • Rochelle,

    Right on with Whack the Weasel! People who want to succeed, need to invest time in crafting a memorable elevator speech to convey to the public. Anyone who is a professional should spend time figuring out what makes them different and word smith it to paper.

    Great point.

    Have a great day!

  • Another side plays here: folks in my trade and my usual client base knows the language I use. However, people outside my profession sit on board of coalitions or institutions or just may know leaders of firms or groups that “need” me; those “outside” folks can better promote me if I provide language they understand. Alternatively, they may not even know they have someone like me to recommend. Thank you to my friend David Stein at Automatic Mail in Queens, NY for sharing this “opportunity” to further promote my business.

  • Love it…. playing it safe and generic is a favorite of most business owners and professionals… Whack the Weasel is a great phrase to fight that disease with. I will Tweet this post, Rochelle.


  • What a cute little weasel! Who’d want to whack him?
    How did such terrible words and phrases get named after him?

  • That cute little weasel struck a nerve, didn’t he? 🙂

    Thank you Dan, Corey, Dag and Mike!

    Corey, I understand your point–you want to use words and phrases that are familiar to your referral sources. The key is to still make your offering–you–distinct–from everyone else. One way to do that is to capture your authentic “voice” in the stories you tell about serving clients….

  • Years ago when I was in union relations and wrote grievance settlements I purposefully wrote using a lot of weasel words. Why? Because grievance settlements could be precedent setting and I wanted there to be as much ambiguity as I could create.

    When it comes to communicating with others in just about any other venue straight talk is valued and seldom found.

  • That’s an interesting analogy Stephen–it’s like writing contracts. Theoretically, we want them clear with no wiggle room, but in practice, we tend to hedge our bets. It can be exactly the same when professionals choose public words to describe themselves….

    Thanks for adding your thoughts!

  • marty Zigman

    May I see examples of really memorable ones?

  • Hi Marty,
    What’s memorable of course depends on the message–how well is the idea expressed and demonstrated? One I particularly like is Charles Green’s site:

    His “big idea” is that trust matters and you’ll see how he’s incorporated that concept into literally every corner of his site (he also carries it nicely into his Twitter feed).

    Here’s to a great 2011 for you!

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