Over-used words of the workplace No.1: PERFECT

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Employee: “Yeah, I missed the deadline, but I’ll have it done by the end of this week.”

Manager: “Perfect! Let’s touch base Friday.”

Sound familiar?

“Perfect” is surely one of the most over- and mis-used words in today’s workplace. At times, it seems to have become almost the default reaction to all manner of evidently mediocre events.

However, “perfect” actually means it couldn’t have been better. No amount of sterling work could have resulted in a better outcome. Any even slight improvement in the situation would have been both inconceivable and impossible. Everybody has performed, acted and generally been optimal in every single way. Everything’s been just so hunky-dory that we can all go skipping off into the self-congratulatory sunset.

And this is clearly not the case in this example…

The manager’s first utterance should have been “Shoddy!”. “Disappointing!”. “Not good”. “Remove yourself from my presence immediately and tremble in fear until your next appraisal, which I’ve brought forward by four months to next week.”

Ok, maybe not. The manager should find out if the deadline had been unrealistic in the first place, whether the loss of the employee’s family pet had adversely affected his performance, or if cock-ups elsewhere in the department had got in the way. And sure, the manager should maintain the employee’s self-esteem, end the exchange on a shrilly positive note, and keep the atmosphere cosily convivial.

But he should absolutely not use the word “perfect”.  

Why? Number one – it’s plain incorrect. Number two – it sounds dumb and ingratiating. And number three –  using “perfect” here so devalues the word that the next time anyone does something that really is perfect (or even just much closer to it) telling them so will have no impact; the manager says “perfect” but the employee hears “ok”.

We all end up in the disingenuous dark groping around for scraps of semantic sincerity.

And surely no-one can say “Perfect!” to that.

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