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Plain Speaking in Corporate Life
by Chris Wesley
There's a whole bunch of stuff which seems to come with working in a company. This stuff doesn't serve the needs of the organisation, and is more about serving the needs (as perceived) of the individuals in it. One prime example of this stuff is the language people use when they're in a corporate setting.
Impressing and Expressing
It's the old chestnut; whether you're speaking or writing, you are likely to have two motives in play, and they will almost always conflict with each other.
If you communicate to impress, you'll use the lingo to the best of your ability. You'll use acronyms all over the show, you'll display complex language structure, you'll inject the newest buzz-words and phrases, and you may even deploy unusual intonations to get yourself noticed.
If your motive is to express - to communicate ideas, concepts and proposals clearly and effortlessly from your mind to the minds of your audience, then you'll be using the smallest words which can carry your meaning with precision. You'll be using common English - understandable by nine-year-olds. You'll be avoiding the lingo, shunning the acronyms. Your pitches will be shorter, far more effective. Your mind and your ideas will be naked - transparent - there for all to see. Which is perhaps why few people use this communications style.
The paradox is, of course, that such communication style is massively impressive.
What's Wrong with a Little Show-Boating?
Well, it ain't wicked - we're all human; we all want to be noticed and appreciated, and that's fine. And in any environment, we tend to absorb the norms and the habits of those around us. It may even be that the meritocracy rewards such behaviour. But when we lapse into corporatese, we lower the tone, we perpetuate silliness, and we lose real opportunities to be clear, to think and communicate powerfully, so see through complex problems to clever solutions. To do our jobs better. And along the way, because we don't have to translate between the jargon and English all the time, we find things get much easier.
Real Corporatese In Action
OK, here's a real example, hot from a client, who just received the job spec for his new job. It's sufficiently small and anonymous for me to include it verbatim with no loss of anonymity.
Is that where you live? It's so difficult to extract precise meaning - and often that's because there isn't any! I'd rather live in a world which talks like this:
I think I've translated it accurately, but I'm not entirely sure. and - how bizarre is it - that a 50-year old Englishman, honours graduate, with 17 tears as a corporate manager, can't be entirely sure! And if I can't be sure - can the job holder? Can his boss?
Here's another example.
Take a leadership role. Does that mean "lead"? Do we really need evolving and enhancing and maturing? How is maturing different from enhancing? Can we do one without the other - and if so, how? I think this one simply means:
Pretty nifty stuff, this language malarkey, innit?
Now scale that up to all of the corporate communications going on in an organisation per day. Written and verbal. Formal presentations, ad hoc meetings, job specs, meetings minutes, daily emails from all and sundry and casual conversations.
It's not difficult to see why speaking plainly might be a good idea.
Your Plain Speaking Challenge
I challenge you to recognise the nonsense, and to spearhead a new, cleaner style of communication. Go forth and dumb down!
I'll leave you with one final thought:
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