I’m like, ya know, and he’s sort of like, I don’t know.

Business MeetingI was just like, ya know, talking to this client about stuff to do with work and she was like really, no way, and my boss couldn’t like handle that, when her boss came into the room and said, “We’re sort of in the sustainability space bringing synergistic value-add to people working in a kind of, ya know, paradigm shift.”

Do you have trouble understanding what people are saying these days?  And do you find people in business using vague words with little meaning, without mentioning real people, actions or thoughts?

Heritage languages like N’Ko and Urdu have been threatened for years by urbanization, formal education and technology (though the Internet is now playing a role in preserving them).  English, on the other hand, has become more pervasive than ever as the language of international business, yet its vitality is being threatened right here at home.

Keeping it real.

Today we use too many abstractions, not words about real things or clear ideas.  For example, every business these days says it can or wants to “exceed customer expectations.”  But that doesn’t mean a thing to customers or employees if you don’t say what the expectations are and what you’re going to do to exceed them.

Corporations also want to be known for being innovative, but the word innovation has become meaningless because it’s not often tied to something real.  An “innovation in patient care” or an “innovation in automotive design” are abstractions.  Have we forgotten how to use the names of real things? If you’ve got a new product that is truly different, then say what it is and explain how it’s different or better.  You can only be recognized for innovation if you show HOW you’re innovative.  Anyone can just say it.

Cracking acronyms.

Companies and industries have their shorthand communications, but acronym-itis has become epidemic. As a corporate writer, I’m asked to attend meetings or events with and for clients, and too often I have no idea what’s being said – until I get some kind of glossary. “We can’t deal with the RPC until our VNBs sit down with KOLs to make sure the STLs are on board.”

Sound familiar?  This kind of communication is off-putting and insular.  Is that how you want your company to be thought of?

Using razor sharp language.

I found this great example of lazy language in a Harvard Business Review blog on the subject: “You should meet this guy with the SIO. He’s sort of this kind of social entrepreneur thinking outside the box in the sustainability space and working on these ideas around sort of web-based social media, and he’s in a round-two capital raise in the VP space with the people at SVNP.”

It’s pretty funny – and completely ridiculous – but this is how people write and speak. I’m not some old-school English professor – I think English remains vital because it’s always changing.  But as a professional corporate writer, I also want to make sure English is vital because it’s precise and beautiful and clear as a bell.

Let’s start by making sense.  Be specific with your language and you’ll be understood, appreciated, and more productive. And you won’t have to spend time with someone like me who keeps asking, “What did you just say?”

 

  • http://coldfireinc.com Nate

    Not sure what you just said, but I totally agree… I think.

  • http://www.patientsbeyondborders.com Josef Woodman

    Too true. I see our world of consumer healthcare filled with references to “patient experience,” “quality metrics,” “aggressive globalization,” with no specific referents. Valspeak has invaded the corporate vernacular. I’ll be scrutinizing my future correspondence with a jaundiced–or whatever–eye. Thanks!

  • http://www.hamiltonadvisorsltd.com Robert Grieves

    Don,

    Could not agree with you more. As English increasingly becomes the global “lingua franca” it is imperative that practitioners use it correctly in both written and spoken form. I attended a Dr. John concert this past weekend in Hong Kong in which one of his listed works was rendered in the program as “Nawlinz: Dis, Dat and Dudda.” I am fairly sure that the mostly Chinese audience could not make head nor tails of that title.

    Robert Grieves

  • http://www.kissmannlangford.com Edna Kissmann

    Don, thanks for these clear and precise thoughts. Could vitality be draining away from the English language because it is being replaced by a different vernacular: the visual, 3-D preferrably, lingua franca on the one hand, and the shrinkage of thoughts and expression in Twitter on the other?

  • Kimberly

    I agree. In meetings and on conference calls people tend to use a lot of fluffy language to beat around the bush instead of a firm yes or no when they are asked a question. It’s tiring to have to cut through it to get to the real meaning!

  • http://www.trudischutz.com Trudi Schutz

    Amen and bravo!! Trudi

  • Peter

    On target Don. It happens in all fields, corporate, non-profit, education and medical. Sometimes I think people use abbreviations and acronym-itis to actually keep others from understanding…or, more to the point, to keep people out.

  • Leslie

    Very true. And can be amusing to track the corporate catch phrase of the moment that ends up being yet another way to say nothing. Here are a few of the phrases I’ve been rolling my eyes to lately:

    1. Working along parallel paths
    2. From my wheelhouse…
    3. Here’s the ask.

    Any others you’d like to contribute?

  • http://www.hullgraphicdesign.com Ginny Hull

    Hey Don, you are entertaining as always and right on the mark. I am often frustrated with today’s poor communication skills in the business world. As a Creative Director, when I’m designing something, it’s not only amusing but it can be a true challenge trying to figure out what real content exists that a client wants presented in an exciting or attractive way, when I can’t figure out, as you say, what the heck they are trying to communicate! But oh, they want something visually impressive but simply can’t explain themselves. A favorite old quote of mine comes to mind:

    I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

    Yeesh.

  • Bob Lurie

    If the child has an IEP he had to have gone through the CSE, so
    please send me the ED and PSYCH. We don’t want this child to end up
    as an LTA.
    From a former teacher

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