Why Business People Speak Like Idiots
eBook - ePub

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

A Bullfighter's Guide

Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, Jon Warshawsky

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  1. 192 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

A Bullfighter's Guide

Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, Jon Warshawsky

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About This Book

If you think you smell something at work, there's probably good reason--"bull" has become the official language of business. Every day, we get bombarded by an endless stream of filtered, antiseptic, jargon-filled corporate speak, all of which makes it harder to get heard, harder to be authentic, and definitely harder to have fun.
But it doesn't have to be that way. The team that brought you the Clio Award-winning Bullfighter software is back with an entertaining, bare-knuckled guide to talking straight--for those who want to climb the corporate ladder, but refuse to check their personality at the door.
Why Business People Speak Like Idiots exposes four traps that transform us from funny, honest and engaging weekend people into boring business stiffs:
• The Obscurity Trap: "After extensive analysis of the economic factors facing our industry, we have concluded that a restructuring is essential to maintaining competitive position. A task force has been assembled..." These are the empty calories of business communication. And, unfortunately, they're the rule. The Obscurity Trap catches idiots desperate to sound smart or prove their purpose, and lures them with message-killers like jargon, long-windedness, acronyms, and evasiveness.
• The Anonymity Trap: Businesses love clones--easy to hire, easy to manage, easy to train, easy to replace--and almost everyone is all too happy to oblige. We outsource our voice through templates, speechwriters and email, and cave in to conventions that aren't really even rules.
• The Hard-Sell Trap: Legions of business people fall prey to the Hard-Sell Trap. We overpromise. We accentuate the positive and pretend the negative doesn't exist. This may work for those pushing Ginsu knives and miracle Abdominizers, but it's dead wrong for persuading business people to listen.
• The Tedium Trap: Everyone you work with thinks about sex, tells stories, gets caught up in life's amazing details, and judges everyone else by the way they look and act. We live to be entertained. We all learned that in Psychology 101, except for the business idiots who must have skipped that semester. They tattoo their long executive-sounding titles on their foreheads, dump pre-packaged numbers on their audience, and virtually guarantee that we want nothing to do with them.
This is your wake-up call. Personality, humanity and candor are being sucked out of the workplace. Let the wonks send their empty messages. Yours are going to connect.
Fast Company magazine named Why Business People Speak Like Idiots one of the ideas and trends that will change how we work and live in 2005.
So grab your cape and sharpen your sword. It's time to fight the bull!

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Free Press

The Obscurity Trap

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.



Enron’s performance in 2000 was a success by any measure, as we continued to outdistance the competition and solidify our leadership in each of our major businesses. We have robust networks of strategic assets that we own or have contractual access to, which give us greater flexibility and speed to reliably deliver widespread logistical solutions . . . . We have metamorphosed from an asset-based pipeline and power generating company to a marketing and logistics company whose biggest assets are its well-established business approach and its innovative people.
Unless a businessperson gets cornered into speaking directly to live people—say English teachers bearing assault rifles—we know what to expect: an indigestible main course of catchphrases and endless prose, with not a lot of substance for dessert.
Jargon, wordiness, and evasiveness are the active ingredients of modern business-speak, and they make up the Obscurity Trap. This trap is particularly pervasive, and its perpetrators are evil people who want to destroy civilization as we know it. (Well, okay, not really, but it felt good to get that out.) We call this a trap because the people who spew jargon and all of that evasiveness really aren’t evil at all.
They’re us.
In normal, healthy conversations with their friends, spouse, cat, and Porsche, these people are brilliant communicators. Ask them to give a presentation or write a press release, though, and say hello to Mr. Hyde. Out comes the 80-page presentation about “synergistic alliances” and “go-forward engagement processes.” And all of this goes right the past the audience, so the lonely yet meaningful point on slide No. 78 doesn’t have a chance of getting through.
And it isn’t just a matter of spending more time and effort. Consider the press release. Almost nothing goes through more editing and review cycles than a press release, which has to be short and is written for the world at large. And yet, press releases seem to show that the more time that is spent on a message, the worse it gets. Shown (p. 13) is an excerpt from an IBM press release.
If you were to take a red marker and cross out the acronyms and meaningless jargon in this press release, the next person who walked by would probably call for an ambulance, because it would look as if you were bleeding all over the page. Once again, here’s a smart and respected firm in technology services that can’t break away from clichés or corporate-speak long enough to tell us anything understandable.
The Obscurity Trap is a serious problem for anyone who wants to connect with a reader or audience: nature has given us the ability to ignore all of this stuff, and we ignore it all the time. Just as you don’t put much thought into walking or breathing, you dismiss the empty or contrived calories of modern business communications without disturbing many slumbering brain cells. And if you tune them out, you can bet your audience does, too.
Hundreds of Business Application Software Providers Flock to IBM’s Partner Programs
Growth Continues in Industry and SMB Markets
SOMERS, NY—July 19, 2004—IBM today announced that business application software providers worldwide are flocking to IBM’s partner programs for vertical industries and small and medium business (SMB). The PartnerWorld Industry Networks, ISV Advantage for Industries, and ISV Advantage for SMB initiatives provide independent software vendors (ISVs) with the technical, marketing and sales resources and support to jointly capture industry-specific and SMB market opportunities worldwide.
More than 900 ISVs across 43 countries have joined PartnerWorld Industry Networks, a major initiative that is helping an expanding ecosystem of industry focused partners to more effectively work with IBM marketing and sales organizations to deliver customized solutions to customers. Covering the banking, financial markets, healthcare, life sciences, retail, telecommunications and recently announced government and insurance industries, PartnerWorld Industry Networks will continue to expand to support additional verticals, with prioritization based on ISV input . . .


If the Obscurity Trap is all about jargon, wordiness, and evasive language, it’s fair to ask why otherwise decent people feel the need to torture their colleagues. There are external forces—political correctness, risk management, and the herd mentality. But there are more insipid, internal factors at work as well.
The first reason for obscurity is a business idiot’s focus on himself over the reader. In the IBM press release, jargon and acronyms serve the author, not the hapless reader who is supposed to get some meaning from it.
When obscurity pollutes someone’s communications, it’s often because the author’s goal is to impress and not to inform. The low road to impressing an audience is to make them feel inferior, by using words they won’t understand. So a fallback plan when trying to impress (or when you have nothing to say) is to toss in a few ringers like “value proposition,” “mindshare,” and “ecosystem.” This way, the author seems to be a kind of intellectual powerhouse, generating concepts that are too lofty to be expressed in something as mundane as English. There’s a strange insecurity at work here, where someone tries to overcompensate by trying to sound smart.
A second reason people fall into the Obscurity Trap, and ultimately speak like idiots, is a fear of concrete language.
In business, we like to avoid commitment. Liability scares us, so we add endless phrases to qualify our views on a topic, acknowledging everything from prevailing weather conditions, to the twelve reasons we can’t make a decision now, to the reason we all agree the topic is important, to the reason why decisions in general require a lot of thought, and so on.
As a study in contrast, consider wedding vows, with the traditional “I do.” Two short words, nowhere to hide. No qualifying clauses, no royal “we” to relieve individual accountability. Just I promising to do.
A lot of the Obscurity Trap stems from evasiveness. If you don’t want to say anything, you’ll find a way to say nothing in a lot of words. Readers will recognize this and give up looking for meaning.
The third motive for obscurity is business idiots’ relentless attempt to romanticize whatever it is that they do for a living. All of this romanticizing keeps the business world from talking about work and instead allows business idiots to pretend to be secret agents and quarterbacks.
When it comes to careers, there are basically two kinds of people in the world. The first kind can mention their career at a cocktail party and count on being swarmed by people who want to know what it’s really like. If you’re an international spy, actor, or sports star, you have what doctorates in the career sciences call a “cool job.”
For most of us, though, fame isn’t part of the job description. We get e-mail, send e-mail, detach things from e-mail, save those things, read them, and make some edits. Sometimes we file them or make copies of them so we don’t lose them. We share them with other people who change the format of these things and show them to groups of other people. We stow things away for a while. Then we retrieve them and take little parts of them and put them into bigger files, where they become part of what we call “intellectual capital” (because we don’t want to call them “bigger files”).
Our friend Avril Dell, a consultant based in Canada, put it bluntly: Business is dull, and that’s why we’ve yet to see a television drama along the lines of “Miami Receivables.” It isn’t hard to see her point. We tried, though:
Palm trees sway in front of a sleek glass office building. A tan stud in a five-figure suit hands the Ferrari keys to the valet, sweeps into the office, winks at the supermodel who’s temping as the receptionist between Sports Illustra...

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