I 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.
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?”