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close up. boss and business team congratulating their colleague

6.25.20 – CI

Fast Company recently highlighted six seemingly positive expressions that might end up triggering bad blood with the person you think you’re complimenting.

It’s a lesson I’ve been taught for as long as I can remember and—given my chosen profession—it’s been one I’ve had to understand thoroughly so people who read the words I write will understand what I’m writing in the way I intend them to understand it.

There are plenty of corporate and AV industry buzzwords that permeate press releases, sales pitches and trade show booth visits—remember those?—these days that are focused more on dazzling the person who’s receiving those words than fully focusing on telling the truth about products and projects.

On top of that, people use expressions to describe people with whom or for they work that they often intend to be compliments but might be viewed by the person being described or someone else who’s first hearing about that person as much more negative than they planned.

Avoid the Unintentional Insult

Fast Company recently rounded up six of those words: assertive, sensitive, well-rounded, idealistic, sharp and articulate. Again, these are words you say to deliver someone a compliment, but they might be perceived by the person hearing them differently than what you mean.

If you call someone “assertive,” for example, surely you’re trying to say they’re not shy about sharing their opinions or doing things that will get them the result they want.

However, someone could think an “assertive” person is going to be overly pushy to the point of stubbornness until they get their way.

When you consider someone “idealistic,” you’re probably focused on the fact that person has ideas that could be possible if everything goes right from step one to the finish line.

What you might not be intending to convey is this person might be a dreamer with ideas that will simply never happen.

Surely, there are other words like this that seem like you’re delivering a compliment but might end up doing more damage to your relationship with the person in the long run.

Business leaders—and people at all levels of a company—need to be careful that the words they say mean what they think they do.

Even the most well-intentioned remark about how “sharp” or “articulate” someone is could become a problem for you if the person on the receiving end takes it the wrong way.

About the Author

D. CRAIG MACCORMACK, Executive Editor


Craig MacCormack is a veteran journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering local and national news and sports as well as architecture and engineering before moving into his current role. He joined Commercial Integrator in January 2011.