The psychology of film & TV, media, & work

Thought-terminating clichés? Whatever…

in Editor Pick/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

Sigmund Freud used to sit patiently whilst his clients rambled endlessly about their lives, waiting for the brief but insightful moments of clarity. This clarity was the unconscious mind, bursting through in snippets of slips of the tongue, pauses and moments of discomfort. So it goes.

Freud recognised that much of our conversation and discourse operated at the surface and was fairly meaningless. The true motivation and personality was buried under layers of neurotic complexity. Such is life.

This complexity is further heightened by our limited ability to understand others and the ever changing, strange world around us. Because true understanding is never quite achieved, it is puzzling that we ever feel satisfied or move on from analysing. It is what it is.

One mechanism we use to let go and avoid analysis paralysis is a thought-terminating cliché. To explain this concept, let me give you an example. Have you ever heard the cliché: ‘It’s all good’?. What does this actually mean? Because nothing is ‘all good’.

This phrase is a thought terminating cliché. It is a well-worn phrase used to terminate an end to the discussion. It allows the individual or individuals to move on from a topic and feel a sense of closure even though the phrase is essentially meaningless.

Some other thought-terminating clichés include: ‘it’s common sense’, ‘you win some you lose some’ and ‘just forget it’. We’ve probably used all of these from time to time.

The thought-terminating cliché is often used in workplaces to prevent others from analysing a comment or decision in too much detail. They may be useful in helping teams to move on from over-analysis, and may help reduce tension where there is a clear disagreement that is unlikely to be resolved.

Nevertheless, the thought-terminating cliché does not really help get to the heart of problems. As Freud would have understood, this cliché is just a way we help manage our interpersonal relationships and deal with the uncertainty around us.

This cliché can also be misused. Why? Because I said so.

Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was ridiculed for her utterance of the cliché ‘moving forward’ 24 times in a five minute speech. ‘Moving forward’ is likely a thought-terminating cliché designed to prevent discussion and analysis of the internal conflict that had plagued her political party.

Similarly, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and fellow party members regularly used the phrase ‘Stop the Boats’, referring to illegal immigrants, which could be considered a thought-terminating cliché to prevent further analysis about the policy.

So, it pays to listen to the phrases people use. They may just be trying to stop you from thinking. But, whatever will be, will be.

Now, let’s face it. If you haven’t already had your fill of thought-terminating clichés throughout this blog, you may be expecting another to wrap it all up. Well, you don’t always get what you want.

2 Comments

  1. Spot on, One mechanism we use to let go and avoid analysis paralysis is a thought-terminating cliché. To explain this concept, let me give you an example. Have you ever heard the cliché: ‘It’s all good’?. What does this actually mean? Because nothing is ‘all good’. I currently work for a company who has analysis paralysis, but its not the data that’s the issue, its the people who interpret and use, or don’t use the data. More like what Freud explained that much of our conversation and discourse operated at the surface and was fairly meaningless. What im more interested in is how to convert those meaningless conversations into something worthwhile. What should I do Dr?

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