Seth Godin writes about “weasel words,” subtle pieces of speech that allow you to wiggle out of commitments and to over-promise. People who use them damage trust and aren’t worth working with.
It seems to me that it’s just as weasely to under-promise than to over promise and to drive down peoples’ expectations for our work so that later, if we were ineffective or timing wasn’t right or whatever, we can say we never guaranteed success. “I don’t really expect anyone to participate.” Even, “Let’s just see what happens.”
This isn’t the same as proposing small-scale experiments that are intentionally designed to attract only a few. This is securing the budget or the volunteers for something while strategically downplaying expectations. There’s a difference.
If we propose a mission trip for 20 students, we should do our homework so that we can say “20” with conviction, and not “We’ll take whoever signs up.” Let’s not weasel out of accountability before we’ve even started.
Weasel words can both over-promise and under-promise.