You’ve been there. You’re watching a local television station when a commercial appears for a car dealership, furniture store, real estate agent or other small business. The voice behind the scene solemnly intones that they are “dedicated to customer service.” Do you buy it? Probably not. Anyone can say they are dedicated to customer service. The credible ones show you.

Or you’re reading a web page that tells you the business is “passionate” about cupcakes, green technologies, raccoon welfare or whatever. Again, you remain skeptical until they demonstrate their passion.

If they’re talking, some people think they can demonstrate their dedication or passion by lowering their voice or waving their hands. If they’re relying on the written word, they might repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

I call phrases like these show-me words. When clients want to use them without any backing, I demur. I try to persuade them to offer an example or other support. If they live these commitments, they’ll have no trouble. If they don’t, theatrics and repetition won’t help.

My list of support-starved show-me words includes “excellence,” “continuous improvement,”  “engagement,” “best of breed” and “best practices.” When you read posts decrying worn-out words, show-me words account for much of the list.

Unlike “Your call is important to us” and other lies, the people behind these hollow phrases are usually honest. They simply fail to add the quick example, research or other support that a skeptical public demands.

Show-me words are not intrinsically bad. It’s just that they mean so little on their own, but so much with support.

After all, reputations are built by showing, not telling.

Which show-me words would you add to my list?

Thanks for the photo, Nemo‘s great uncle.

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Show me, don’t tell me
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