I once had a co-worker who used the word ”literally” quite a bit. Actually, that is an understatement because he used it most of the time. Not only would he use it in a sentence for emphasis such as, “I literally have not slept in days,” but he would even use it as a one word response such as when someone would say they had curry chicken for dinner the night before and he would respond by saying, “Literally?” In fairness, he was using it as a go-to word/phrase, which we all have, such as “really,” “for real,” and “no way,” but he still overused it.
The dictionary definition of the word “literally” is as follows:
-In a literal manner or sense; exactly. “The driver took it literally when asked to go straight across the traffic circle.”
-Used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true. “I have received literally thousands of letters.”
In the business world, we often hear people refer to things in a literal sense. Much like the example sentence listed above, we hear statements such as;
“I get literally 500 hundred emails every day.”
“I literally do not have 12 minutes to complete the training course.”
“My phone rings off the hook, literally!”
“I am literally in meetings from the time I arrive until the time I leave.”
“Literally, I am doing the work of three people each day.”
While we need to be aware of the frustrations of our people and even allow for time to vent if necessary, there are times when their comments are literally not accurate. In such cases, we need to help them get to the root cause of the issue. This process begins, after the venting, with questions.
For example, you might ask the person about the content of the 500 emails they receive every day. Is it really 500 emails? When do they come in throughout the day? Are they business, personal, junk email, or perhaps a mixture of all of these? For junk email, is there an unsubscribe option that will help eliminate these? Can personal emails be routed to a personal email versus a work email? Are there specific time frames blocked off on the schedule to read and return emails or are they attempting to simply multitask throughout the day, which usually only adds to the frustration level?
You may not be able to solve the entire problem quickly by asking these questions, but you can begin the process of helping the person identify underlying issues and making corrections on their own, literally!