Adrian Pitt ponders the use of business speak in the corporate world, how it clutters communication channels and hampers our ability to learn and develop. Let’s run this article up the flagpole and see who salutes it…
Do you ever wish you were ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ as your colleagues, but find you’re more Mozart than ‘morning has broken’? Maybe you fancy indulging in a spot of ‘blue sky thinking’, however the skies where you are remain grey and overcast? Perhaps your boss has given you a project to manage that’s ‘not rocket science’ but requires you to ‘think outside of the box’ that you keep tripping over in the corridor?
Idioms and impenetrable business speak are part and parcel of corporate life. We hear the phrases and we appear to accept them. Many of them just wash over us.
Have you ever stopped to think whether they actually hamper our ability to learn and develop? When I moved from the banking world to a career in training some 25 years ago, as part of my induction, I met a manager who could only be described as ‘Mr Mixed Metaphors’ and was pretty acronym-tastic. So bad was his babble that, as a ‘rookie’ trainer, I hadn’t the heart to stick up my hand and say: “Excuse me? What exactly do you mean?” As I got to know colleagues, many of us would sit in his briefings and notch up many a five-bar gate on our notepads listening out for his freaky phrases. Looking back, did we actually take on board a word the man said? Of course not! We were far too busy trying to determine when his next “We’ll put this on the back burner” was coming.
Let’s examine a time when you changed career or maybe moved departments: remember that first team meeting when the air was saturated with acronyms and initialisms? (a new word I’ve learnt). Did you get your KPIs mixed up with your KSIs? Did your KLOE take you on a wild goose chase? Did you know your ARS from your LBO? I felt as if I was on the set of Countdown trying to solve one of their conundrums. It comes to something when you have to make a list of these letters to take home and Google, yet again for fear of looking foolish in front of your workmates. Many a time I’ve heard staff say: “We should compile a table of these acronyms and their meanings so that everyone, new staff in particular, will understand what they mean.” Great idea: been there, done that. But by the time the list’s published, it’s often out of date.
So, why do our colleagues bamboozle us with this business speak that many of us abhor? Is it to sound ‘on trend’? Maybe they’re leading us into a false sense of security by brainwashing us? We’ll start to believe they do know what they’re talking about, when, in reality, they haven’t the foggiest. Whatever the reason, being barraged by sloppy one-liners, in my opinion, just clutters communication channels and hides what people are really thinking. Surely “with all due respect” translates as “I don’t really like you – it’s my way or no way!” and “I hear what you’re saying, but…” once deciphered means “What a ridiculous idea! You do the listening, I’ll do the talking”.
I’m not one to stand in the way of linguistic evolution, however, take half a dozen of these phrases, unpick them and what do we find? Many are empty, meaningless, designed to be dishonest or throw us off the scent.
Anyone who says: “We’ll park that there for later” usually means they have no intention of revisiting that particular piece of work, but they can tick it off their to-do list as having been mentioned!
I was at a multi-agency meeting once where a rather impertinent and obnoxious woman stood up and said: “We’ve just got to stop working in silos!” I looked at the other professionals round the table raising their eyes to the ceiling and wondered whether it was the case or if, with that attitude, they actually didn’t want to work with her and would prefer her to be buried head first in one of her silos!
We also get phrases dreamt up by the Political Correctness Police. I walked into a ex-colleague’s training session once; all her delegates were hard at work. “We’re thought showering,” she said. I looked at her sideways as she claimed: “…because we can’t say ‘brain storming’ any more, can we?” (even though you just said it).
‘Thought showering’? Put down your PC umbrellas. That expression sounds so namby-pamby. The Epilepsy Society clarified that if the word ‘brain storming’ is being used in the context of a group of people suggesting ideas, then it’s not offensive to people with epilepsy.
“At the end of the day”, “I’m not being funny, but…” by not challenging our colleagues, by not sticking up our hand and asking what exactly it is they mean, are we not colluding with them and just letting them get away with clogging up our grey matter with their verbal litter? I’d rather know where I stand, be given clear and concise instructions and information.
Come on, Mr Line Manager – tell me how it is! Don’t flower things up with your corporate clichés. It’s a no-brainer. See you around – I’m off for a rain check!
Adrian Pitt owns Develop-meant Training Consultants, delivering Careers, Advice and Guidance, Coaching and Mentoring, Leadership and Management, Education and Training and Assessment and Verification qualifications at all levels.
Find him at www.develop-meant.com