Reaching out – meaningful phrase or just guff?

I got a fundraising call earlier this week.

The caller and I had a pleasant conversation. I politely declined her initial request for a large monthly donation. She talked some more before making another appeal.

“Can I just reach out to you one more time?” she asked.

I winced. ‘Reach out’? Ugh.

It may have been this was the caller’s personal way of speaking, though all else about the call suggested she was working closely to a script.

As you’ll realise, I don’t like the phrase. It doesn’t seem to be anything more than affectation.

(I wonder how many children of corporately employed parents will be reaching out to Santa in the weeks up to Christmas.)

And I’m not the only one to dislike the phrase. Financial Times journalist, Lucy Kellaway, is another. She even goes so far as to award ‘gongs for guff’. ‘Reach out’ has been a past winner.

Of course, technical words and phrases are a necessity in many professions. They ensure clarity and precision in communication. Is ‘reach out’ one of these? What does it cover that asking or contacting don’t?

There is also a place for imagery in communication. Mark Forsyth – Inkyfool blogger and author – has a new book, The Elements of Eloquence, which covers this excellently. Is ‘reaching out’ eloquent?

Maybe it is acting in a sort of euphemistic way? Was it allowing the caller to feel comfortable about making a second request and, presumably, ensuring I would not feel unhappy at it being made?

Or is it, as Lucy Kellaway would have it, just guff?

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