Plain Speaking

The new big thing at work is managing the risks to our company in relation to our “key suppliers” whatever they may be. I know from bitter experience that they are not referring to the suppliers of keys that unlock doors, safes, drawers and padlocks. Nevertheless, on every occasion where I have asked, not one person has ever come up with a satisfactory definition of what they mean. Or where they have, the definitions are vague and imprecise.

But it sounds important, and that is where the danger lies. Anyone who is genuinely interested in improving the company’s business must beware not to get sucked into wasting precious time in meaningless and unending exchanges that produce nothing of any value. In large organisations you can find people in what appear to be important positions, sometimes with considerable budget to spend and staff to manage, who are looking for subjects to pass the time and make themselves look even more important. How they get away with it is beyond me.

I am a great believer in plain speaking, saying what you mean. I like being productive and I hate wasting time. It is not an easy task. Bernard Werber has this to say (my attempt at a translation follows):

“Entre ce que je pense, ce que je veux dire, ce que je crois dire, ce que je dis, ce que vous voulez entendre, ce que vous entendez, ce que vous croyez en comprendre, ce que vous voulez comprendre, et ce que vous comprenez, il y a au moins neuf possibilités de ne pas se comprendre.”

“Between what I think, what I mean, what I believe to have said, what I actually say, what you want to hear, what you hear, what you believe to have understood, what you want to understand and what you actually understand, there are at least nine possibilities for us not to understand each other”

Here follows – “in a nutshell” – a resource guide for detecting management bullshit, with my extract of the funniest bits. I could say I found it after taking “a snorkel in the think-tank” or “a helicopter-eye view” of the situation, but I will confess to having used a search engine and a morning off work.

Definition of management-speak from Rational Wiki “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

50 office-speak phrases you love to hate from the BBC “I once had a boss who said, ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it, so you have to step up to the plate and face the music.’ It was in that moment I knew I had to resign before somebody got badly hurt by a pencil.”

No sign of uplift in real terms from the NHS networks blog. Anonymous says “I’ve worked for managers who have used this claptrap to cover up their lack of knowledge. It made me roar with cynical laughter. I imagine there will be so many more examples in the not too distant future as we’re given information which means nothing. Thank you.”

‘Only pizzas are delivered’: Public sector jargon banned in first style guide for Government announcements from The Telegraph. Rob Good provides the following political euphemisms: “mis-selling” instead of fraud; “rendition” instead of “kidnap”; “take out” for destroy or kill; “collateral damage” for ditto.

Check out the Plain English Campaign’s Gobbledygook generator and their A-Z of simple alternatives available on their homepage. Example: “We need to cascade memos about our ‘Outside the box’ strategic innovation.”


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