Since I can remember, (yes, all the way back to the 70’s), the phrases “contact”, and “stay in touch” were used in everyday conversation. Even a commercial from The Bell System (now known as AT&T) hooked us with a jingle that gleefully admonished us to “reach out and touch someone” via the telephone. The original concept behind that commercial was to divert people’s focus from their long distance phone bill to touchy-feely fuzzy wuzzies about talking to people out of their local dialing area. It worked. And it stuck.
Today, as I write this, some 40+ years later, we’re still “reaching out” to others, and the phrase has become prolific. Here’s why it’s a problem in business.
- AMBIGUITY IS RUDE. We have more ways of communicating than ever before. Being ambiguous about how you will communicate is rude. It leaves your recipient with a question. If you are going to “reach out” to me, and I’m expecting a phone call with, say a price, I will be awfully upset to learn that you sent my quote via fax, mail, email, etc. If I wanted an email, I would be annoyed if you stopped by my house unannounced. Rude.
- AMBIGUITY IS INEFFECTUAL. It is more succinct and professional to say or write exactly how you will contact the person. Many people still don’t use email. Some people exclusively communicate by texting. Just tell me what you mean! If you intend to call, say so. If you intend to email, say that also. And in each case, tell your listener what number or email address you’ll be using. Chances are, he or she has more than one of each.
- FLUFFY LANGUAGE IS SOFT. If you envision someone reaching out, ask yourself, what is that connotation? It feels a bit trepidatious. Like you would approach a dog you’ve just met. He might bite, so you reach out carefully. The term itself sometimes feels as if it is beseeching; “I’m apprehensively contacting you, and trembling while I await your reply.” Heaven forbid you be so bold as to CALL someone on the phone. No, “reaching out” is much less assertive. Well, tough cookies. I’m a fan of being assertive* in life and in business. It’s how things get done – quickly and accurately. No guesswork. Say what you mean, mean what you say. (*I’m not a fan of aggression, however, and if you don’t know the difference, look it up. )
- LEAVE “REACH OUT” FOR OUTREACH. Despite a study published regarding vague language signaling power, it in fact, does the opposite. The study was regarding abstract thoughts and language which is markedly different than ambiguous, warm-fuzzy-feeling language. If you are running an Outreach Program for homeless teens or abused anyone, then by all means, use the fluffy language, and “reach out” to those in need, doling out pats on the back and hugs when appropriate. That’s nice. In business, however, it is not only inappropriate to touch another person, but the metaphorical use of the term is overtly soft handed, making you appear “fluffy” in your conveyance, or, that you have assessed the recipient too squishy to handle concise terms. And, you might be right, given the fragile state of our Nation and the ever-growing dearth of people with strength of character. But that is a topic all its own. A business person commands more respect by being concise and accurate. “Reaching out” or asking someone to “reach out” to you smacks of emotion and in some cases, a pleading or even desperation. It can also denote a degree of intimate knowledge or actual physical contact. But using it in a business setting, it just makes you appear weak.
- FALSE FRIENDSHIP IS MANIPULATIVE. The term is overly familiar, as described above. If we’re friends, you might use that term when I’m feeling down, or vice-versa. Using it in a business setting conveys a false sense of friendship, which is manipulative. While I’m always respectful and professional with business associates, it would be underhanded to pretend we’re friends and play on that to get something out of you, so I don’t do that. At a minimum, it’s manipulative, and sometimes, we women don’t want a man to “reach out”, it’s creepy.
- IT’S EXTRA, UNNECESSARY WORDS. “I wanted to reach out to you today to ask you if…” Can be better said/written, “I wanted to ask you if…” A representative from a business hoping to earn my patronage, told me her sales manager would reach back out to me. I said, “I didn’t reach out to you, I called you. Is your Salesman going to call me back?” She replied, “Yes, he’ll reach back out and call you.” I let out a sigh, thanked her and hung up. There is no logical reason to add the extra words “Reach back out.” It’s fluff and nonsense, and I’m tired of it.
- LET’S GET SPECIFIC. I am one person, and there are over twenty different ways to convey your message or engage me interactively. You can speak to me in person, call or fax my office, or cell phone. You can Google Chat, Skype, Facebook Post, Facebook Messenger, SnapChat, text, Kik, Tweet, FaceTime, comment on a post, fill out a contact form and more. (Let’s not forget Candy Grams or Landsharks.) What about you? Can you imagine your frustration if you had to check each of those during your busy work day all because I said “reach out” instead of “call”?
I am hopeful that after reading this, you will find at least one good reason to forever remove that phrase from all communications, especially in business.
Here are some of my favorite articles written about this topic. It’s a welcome relief to know that so many others agree with me.
If You Say “Touch Base” and “Reaching Out..” (No one deserves to die for this, I don’t know why anyone would even joke about that)