Whether they make your skin crawl or tickle your fancy, the use of cliches has spread like wildfire over the years. These phrases, defined by their overuse, have flooded our everyday lives, making it difficult to get through a full day without hearing or speaking several. Critics discourage their use, especially in writing, as their presence indicates a lack of imagination. Further, many of these expressions are so overused and unnecessary they can be categorized as pure fluff. There are few positive views on these hackneyed phrases; however, I tend to enjoy them (in moderation).
First, their origins fascinate me. As reported by Life Magazine, the expression “hair of the dog that bit you,” a common idea for curing a hangover, is derived from the medieval belief that if bitten by a rabid dog, pressing the hair of that dog to the wound could cure the infection. The term “falling on the sword,” meaning to offer resignation or accept the consequences of fault, can be found in the Bible in reference to King Saul falling on his sword to commit suicide while in battle with the Philistines. Second, and more importantly, I am impressed by their ability to deliver our thoughts in a concise, succinct manner that would be difficult to verbalize otherwise. In this sense, cliches create a common language which is beneficial as they carry so much information in only a handful of words.
Recently I’ve noticed the function cliches provide when describing Hogan assessment scales, especially to Hogan novices. For those unfamiliar to the assessments, when first introduced to the scale names, the terms can seem somewhat foreign. As such, it is important to describe the scales in a manner in which recipients can relate instantly. So whether describing an executive’s tendency under stress to “push the envelope” (HDS Mischievous), or an individual contributor’s conflict-avoidance as “beating around the bush” (HPI Interpersonal Sensitivity), these expressions provide an immediate connection between the assessment results and their respective behaviors. Of course, traditional descriptors of the assessment scales are crucial and cannot be replaced, but they can be enhanced by a real-life example, story, or cliche which provide a deeper understanding of such behavioral characteristics.
Even more interesting than the origins of common cliches, is the ability of the Hogan assessment terminology to create a common language for measuring and improving performance within an organization. As a company familiarizes itself with the assessment scales and respective interpretive information, employees become comfortable replacing descriptors such as “curious,” “visionary,” and “strategic-minded” or even cliched terms like “thinking outside the box” with Hogan scales (e.g., high Inquisitive). The scales create a common language for the organization and as a result, provide a powerful benefit similar to that of the clever cliche–the ability to deliver a wealth of information in a concise, instantly understandable message.