• This project is the worst ever!”
  • “I have a million things on my to do list.”
  • “This is taking a ton of time.”
  • “Learning this new software is killing me!”
  • “If this meeting doesn’t end soon, I’m going to die.”

Do any of these phrases sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself using them or something similar in the workplace? If so, you may be unwittingly damaging your credibility by using (too much) hyperbole.

Exaggerated But Realistic Character Of An Excited Woman

What is hyperbole?

Hyperbole is an extreme exaggeration used to make a point. We often use it to add “color” or “flavor” to our communication. “This software is older than dirt” is a colorful statement and it allows you to make your point with emphasis. Teenagers are MASTERS of hyperbole in my experience. At least I was. “Mom, if I can’t have these (name brand) tennis shoes, I won’t be able to show my face at school… ever!” Or, “I’m so embarrassed…I could just die!” That is hyperbole.

Group Of Business People In A Meeting

Hyperbole and Credibility

Communicating in a vivid and engaging manner can add to the overall impact of your message. However, reliance on hyperbole can “kill” your credibility. Notice what I did there? Of course you did. Does hyperbole really “kill” your credibility? Of course not. Can it negatively impact your credibility? Of course it can.

Unfortunately, “negatively impact” isn’t as attention grabbing as “kill.” And, in the information age, when we are inundated with messages, it is tempting to use hyperbole to grab attention, to get heard above the noise.

Here is where the problem lies. If everything in your business is “the best ever” or “the biggest opportunity of the year” or even “the most challenging” then how do you separate the genuinely “great” from the “good?” How do you emphasize something worthy of more time, effort and energy if everything is currently positioned in the extreme? If you regularly use hyperbole to make a point, how can people trust you? 

A Wolf In The Woods

Remember the boy who cried “wolf!”? When the wolf really did appear, he wasn’t believed. Same thing with your credibility. If you consistently paint everything as a “crisis” or “a disaster!” how will you gain the much needed focus and attention of your team when the genuine crisis occurs? Chances are, you will have a more difficult time. If everything is an exaggeration, how will your team, your colleagues, your clients trust you?

Words Matter – Watch Out for These

Sometimes hyperbole is a habit. We are accustomed to using words that smack of hyperbole. Here’s a quick list of words that are currently popular. We often use them without thinking and we may be inadvertently be hurting our credibility.

•  Amazing

•  Awesome

•  Unbelievable

•  Totally

•  Nightmare

•  Ridiculous

•  Fabulous

•  Killing

•  Crushing

Roll Of Caution Tape

If you use these words sparingly, you will likely make an impact. If you use them too much you will likely be seen as less professional, less serious, and less discerning. You will be hurting your credibility.

Ask yourself, how am I using hyperbole? Too much? What price might I be paying?

Professionals know that communicating in an engaging manner is important. However, to sacrifice credibility for the sake of exaggeration is likely a career killing, totally ridiculous, nightmare choice.

Pamela Jett is a communication skills and leadership expert who knows that words matter! In her keynote presentations, workshops, books and online learning programs, she moves beyond communication theory into practical strategies that can be implemented immediately to create the kind of leadership, teamwork, and employee engagement results her clients want.