Torch these trigger phrases in these trying times

Trigger Phrases

The other day I was lacing up my shoes to take my favorite podcast for a walk. The episode was one I’d started earlier, having left off at a commercial break. So when I pressed play, an advertiser began:

“In these challenging times …”


Before tying the other shoe, I grabbed my phone and tapped fast-forward until I heard the familiar voice of my favorite podcaster. Triggered by those four words, I opted to blow past all the sponsored messages on that program.

Note to advertisers, marketers, and anyone else who wants to be heard: a single phrase can cost you your audience.

Here are three phrases that might be alienating people from your messages “in these challenging times.”

You say: “in these challenging (or uncertain or difficult or trying) times”

I hear: Your life is a sh*t storm right now. But enough about you, let’s talk about this product or service I want you to buy.

Instead: Ditch these words altogether and make your pitch. Or, if the strife of the moment is essential context for your offer, be specific. What challenge (or uncertainty or difficulty or trial) can you help me address? Acknowledge my pain, then offer relief.

“In the past six months, your savings have taken a hit. Here’s a way to re-pad that financial cushion.”

You say: “the new normal”

I hear: Things suck. And all of that suckage is here to stay. Get used to it, sucker.

Instead: Stop suggesting that any of this is “normal.” I’ll give you “new,” but that’s it. Things have changed. A lot. Quite possibly, things will never be the same. In time, I may get used to some of what’s “new.” But right now, I may be missing the comfort of “old.” Or perhaps “normal” wasn’t good for me before, and things are even worse now. If you must convince me that this new way might actually be worth holding onto, show me. A metaphor might help.

“Think of virtual meetings as a community table. No one sits at the head of the table. Nobody’s relegated to the kids’ table. We all occupy the same space.”

You say: “you’re on mute”

I hear: Hey, dumb-*ss, your lips are moving, but you’re not making any sound. After all these months of virtual meetings, don’t you know how to use the mic?

Instead: Stop accusing. Technically, my mute is on, and my sound is off. So yeah, I’m muted. But what matters isn’t that I pushed the wrong button or forgot to push the right one. The point is: you can’t hear me. Say that. You’ll sound a lot more pleasant and supportive, and when I re-enter the conversation, I won’t be on the defensive.

“Hey, Beth, we can’t hear you. Can you check your mic?”

What are your trigger phrases?

In these challenging times, what words are you ready to obliterate? In the new normal, what shall we say instead? Take yourself off mute and tell me what you think!

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