Meaningless Platitudes Master Class: How not to write the way Bill Belichick talks
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick spoke to reporters Tuesday, told only the truth, and said absolutely nothing. He spoke in platitudes. Take a close look at your own writing, because if you write the way Belichick talks, your readers will be just as frustrated as those reporters were.
How to not answer a question the Patriots way
Boston Globe football reporter Ben Volin described Belichick’s M.O. in his article “Bill Belichick serves reporters goose eggs for breakfast.” A few choice quotes:
Will star tight end Rob Gronkowski choose to come back this year? “I’m not going to speak for anybody else.”
Has he spoken to quarterback Tom Brady since the Super Bowl? “Yeah, I covered that the other day. . . . It’s on every Internet site you’d want to find. I’m sure we can pull it up for you” (He had previously said “Tom and I have always had a good line of communication.”)
Will he select a quarterback in this year’s draft? “Think we’ll always try to do what’s best for the team . . . Whatever those opportunities are, we’ll do the best we can with them.”
Why didn’t Malcolm Butler play on defense in the Super Bowl? “I’m not going to get into last year. I’m not going to get into next year or some other year. I talked to Malcolm, I wished him well in Tennessee. I have a lot of respect for Malcolm and we wish him well.”
What’s your opinion on safety Duron Harmon being detained for bringing marijuana to Costa Rica? “I think it’s all been covered. Patriots released a statement. Duron released it.”
How tough is it to lose tackle Nate Solder to the New York Giants? “We lost several players in free agency. That’s the NFL. . . . Nate did a great job for us, and he’s got a great opportunity in New York. We wish him well.”
Who will replace him? “Yeah, there’s a lot of team-building left for us and every other team in the league, so we’ll see how it goes.”
What role will new cornerback Jason McCourty have? “All the guys that we got, I would say we’re happy to have. We’ll see how it goes and put them into the program and give them an opportunity to compete like everyone else.”
Was the team excited to extend safety Patrick Chung’s contract? “All the moves we made this spring — contracts, the additions — it’s part of the whole team-building process. It’s always exciting to go through that process. Some of it is this year, some of it is in future years.”
Is this year’s team one of the fastest teams Belichick has every had? “Talking about the ’18 team? We don’t even have an ’18 team yet, so I don’t know. I don’t know who’s going to make the team, who’s going to play, all that. I have no idea.”
This is infuriating for reporters and Patriots fans. Every single answer is true. None of them contain any useful information.
Are you delivering Belichickian platitudes?
Bill Belichick knows what he is doing. His philosophy, maddening as it may be, is to avoid giving out any information that may be useful to the competition. There are plenty of instances where he has waxed on eloquently about his football philosophy and justification for the decisions he has made, and there is no question that he is one of the smartest coaches ever. But he has made a strategic decision to be opaque, so he shares platitudes like “We will do what’s best for the team” that, while true, have no meaning.
Your job as a writer is to communicate what people don’t know. You don’t have Belichick’s excuse of hoping to avoid informing anyone. And yet, as I read your press releases and white papers and management emails, I see meaningless platitudes that would fit perfectly in a Bill Belichick press conference.
“We will always do our best to safeguard your personal data.”
“We regret that our CEO’s behavior was distressing to these women.”
“We are well prepared to have a stronger year in 2018.”
“Our priority, as always, is to do our best to serve customers.”
“We will hire the smartest, most capable people available.”
Meaningless platitudes set off the bullshit detectors. They are statements that no one could possibly disagree with (“Oh, I’m sorry, did you think we were planning to have a weaker year in 2018?”). They are true, and they are worthless.
We all write these sentences — they make sense, they’re easy to write, and they offend no one. But just because you write one doesn’t mean it has to stay there. Go back and read what you wrote. Delete as many of the empty platitudes as you can and replace them with actual facts and numbers. You’ll be amazed as how much more direct and believable you’ll sound.
You’re no Bill Belichick. Don’t allow yourself to sound like him.
Meaningless platitudes set of the bullshit detectors….. should say “set off”.