Why Is Everyone So “Pleased”?

Nov 2016

When you’ve been in the PR business for more than 20 years, you notice things. Some of those things really bug you. At the top of my list is a three-word phrase that is perhaps the most overused and ineffective in all of business writing.

“We are pleased.”

You all know it. We’ve all used it (yes, I have too in some weak moments). It’s standard fodder in press release quotes and media interviews. No matter how good, bad or challenging the piece of information being delivered, somehow the one doing the delivering is pleased about it.  

How can it be that everyone is so pleased? When you stop to think about it, it can be unnerving. For me, it conjures images of zombie armies of suited-up executives and pols advancing on you with pleased looks on their faces. Right before they tear into your flesh. Absolutely terrifying.

Here’s why this seemingly harmless phrase is usually insincere, nearly always ineffective, and certainly ready to be put out to pasture.

On the one hand, “we are pleased” is safe. It is, to use a synonym, “agreeable”. It’s a palliative. It feels good. Especially to jaded PR people, who know that CEOs (and legal departments) are just fine with saying they’re pleased. Why? Because it’s good to be pleased – it’s not too emotional; not too high; not too low. It conveys control, a firm hand at the helm. It’s just right!

It’s also lazy writing that actually weakens whatever point you’re trying to make. That’s because “we are pleased”, both in its conception and usage, is usually invoked to avoid any sense of useful perspective, or to defuse conflict. Public figures who’d rather be doing anything than making a public disclosure default to the phrase as a way to say, “All is well, you can move on now.”

Some will say that the use of a tired phrase designed to nudge a reader away from the real story is in itself a legitimate communications ploy. While that’s fair, I’d argue that “we are pleased” has outlived any usefulness in that context. In fact, its overuse has nearly drowned it in implied negatives. Consider three examples:

  • When used as calculated understatement, it reeks of self-satisfaction or smarminess. During the presidential campaign, our next President released this statement in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s bout with pneumonia: “We are pleased to disclose that … Donald Trump is in excellent health.” Oh, I bet you are!
  • “Pleased” also fails as a cover for mixed or negative news, instead revealing itself as a tacit admission of a failure to deliver to expectations. “While our earnings were below our outlook, we are pleased to report another quarter of record sales.” Hmmm, so I’m guessing that heavy discounting at the end of the quarter didn’t quite get the job done!
  • And finally, it can be flat-out dishonest when it’s used to suggest that the speaker is happy with an outcome that is in fact embarrassing: “We are pleased to have reached a settlement that allows us to focus on our business and put the prospect of costly litigation behind us.” Read: we probably screwed up and it’s not worth the money and bad press to fight it.

In these and other examples it’s become clear that “we are pleased” has become bland filler that often compromises credibility and signals readers to form their own judgment. And that’s its underlying fallacy:  “we are pleased” is intended to shape a perspective on the information being delivered, when in practice it is so meh as to direct the reader to form their own. In short, “we are pleased” hoists itself on its own petard.

But wait, there’s more. It’s also increasingly anachronistic. Think of the investment we all make in our digital lives to find clever ways to express emotions through our devices and apps. The exploding number of emojis and now bitmojis on our phones. Increasing options to do more than just “like” on Facebook. All those exclamation points and CAPS my mom uses in her texts. The desire to express oneself is innate, as is a journalist’s desire to not want to be told what to think. The former explains why we’ve been stuck with this phrase; the latter explains its failure.

So at this point someone might ask, enough ranting, what’s the solution? Simple: deliver facts and forget the milquetoast non-opinion. Anytime you find yourself writing “we are pleased”, delete it and rewrite the sentence as an assertive statement that makes your point clearly. Instead of being pleased to release your medical records, say this:  “The medical records released today affirm the candidate is in excellent health and fully ready to meet the demands of the presidency.” You might be surprised how much more persuasive you sound.

Originally Published on LinkedIn

Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-everyone-so-pleased-jeff-majtyka/