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Dan, Dilbert and the words we use

Last evening I ran into my neighbor, Dan, after we had both parked our cars in our respective garages and were making our way through our backyards to the house. Being the friendly neighbor that I aspire to be, I said to Dan, “Hey, how was your day?” He looked at me and said with a straight face, “Well, I’ve been on quite a transformative journey! I have shifted many of my paradigms, increased my intellectual bandwidth, clarified my understanding of our company’s vision and I’m fully engaged and on-board! After a second or two trying to determine if he was for real, we bought started to laugh.
 
He went on to describe how he began his day thinking he had walked into a Dilbert comic strip. His work team had been pulled together to review their processes and practices to determine how they impact the customer’s experience. Their focus together (it was the start of a three day retreat) was to re-invent the way they served their customers.
 
Dan went on to tell me – all kidding aside – that the day had been very productive and eye-opening and he thought the work they were doing together was not only important but was also energizing. The only thing that got in the way, he said, was the facilitator’s excessive use of jargon. He said there were grins and smirks and a few rolling eyes as the session started and it wasn’t until they were a few hours in were they able to overlook the corporate-speak and begin to find value in the process.
 
Are you guilty? Am I? Likely we all are to some extent. I believe that business jargon can serve a purpose. At best it is communication shorthand (for those who speak the same language) to convey larger concepts, issues or problems. For instance, saying that a certain initiative is “mission-critical” is an abbreviated way of saying “focus on the XYZ project immediately because if we don’t accomplish this well, the future of our organization is in jeopardy.” At worst, if over-used, it becomes white noise and no one pays attention. AND, as in Dan’s case, that overuse can be a distraction and a turn-off.
 
 

3 Ways to Eliminate “Corporate Speak” in 2011

““Corporate speak” is the gobbledygook that slows down progress and understanding in companies across the world. This problem is not just limited to large corporations; it also runs rampant among small businesses, entrepreneurs and lawyers. It is often a symptom of your environment. Could you imagine telling a loved one about the synergies of red wine complementing the innovative marinade on your steak dinner, not to mention having the bandwidth to sit down and commiserate with your counterpart? If you did…you’d often be eating alone.

So let’s make a resolution to ban corporate speak in 2011. But how? Here are three questions to ask yourself when successfully merging action-oriented planning steps to directives…I mean…when you actually write something:

1.Who is my audience? Yes, your audience may use corporate speak. However, your message may be more effective by avoiding corporate speak in such an environment. Go through your writing and identify any words that your loved ones won’t understand. This doesn’t work in technical documents, but it will in 99% of everything else. If you can use plain, short language in a land of corporate speak you’ll be amazed at the response.

2.Why am I using that word or sentence? Many people use corporate speak because it makes them sound smarter. Most people assume “sounding professional” is the same as “sounding smart.” It’s not. Let your intelligence shine through your ideas. People often use complicated sounding words simply to sound intelligent. Don’t be that guy (or girl)!

Less is more. People seem to think that the longer something is, the more intelligent or important it is. This is especially important in email. Many people glance over long emails. Can your entire point be summed up in three regular sentences? I bet it can. Try it and watch how soon you’ll be able to sum up everything in one single sentence.”

 
Imbedded in Jim’s challenge is the central idea to think before you speak (or write).  Recognize that what might be a pedestrian habit to you is akin to nails scrapping a blackboard to another. Notice that what you view as an expedient way of communicating may be perceived as lazy or pretentious. 
 
Dan told me that while the speaker ultimately proved his value, the time wasted at the session’s start could have been eliminated if the speaker focused on building rapport with the audience in a more authentic way. If he took time to ask himself – what language should I use to engage this audience? Are there phrases and expressions I typically use that might be foreign or even offensive to this group? Is there a way to share with my audience why I use the words I use? For instance, if you favor terms like “journey” and “transformation” let the audience in on it. Say, “You will hear me today refer to this endeavor as a journey…I use that word for a very specific reason and let me share why…”
 

The words we use shape the relationships we have and the experiences we create. Take the extra step to ensure the words you use have meaning not only for our audiences but for yourself as well.