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The Non-Language of Offices

Wednesday, February 25, 2009 by Slaughter Development

A recent article from the BBC lists fifty different phrases that permeate the modern workplace. But does this type of language actually help businesses be more productive?

All of the quotations come from brief interviews with frustrated employees:

“The one that really gets me is pre-plan—there is no such thing. Either you plan or you don’t. ”

Another reads:

“The new one which has got my goat is conversate, widely used to describe a conversation. I just wish people could learn to ‘think outside the box’ although when they put us in cubes what do they expect?”

As well as:

“I once had a boss who said, ‘You cant 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.”

One more exceptional example is:

“The particular phrase I love to hate is drill down, which handily can be used either as an adverb/verb combo or as a compound noun, ie: ‘the next level drill down’, sometimes even in the same sentence—a nice bit of multi-tasking.”

These examples are amusing, but the use of such phrases can be destructive to workplace culture. Unlike jargon, which is the specialized terminology of a field, business speak has no value. It is helpful for doctors to use words with precise meaning, such as atherosclerosis or angioplasty. But the phrase “outside of the box thinking” merely means “creativity.” Long-winded substitutions of stock phrases for simple ideas only wastes time and frustrates the listener. Perhaps this style of language reinforces the points made in the last posting in The Methodology Blog, which questioned whether leadership roles are awarded for competence or just saying the most words.

For more information and examples, check out the excellent book Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide. Note, however, that word choice and tone at the office do more than inform or amuse, they may also inspire and frustrate. The resulting stakeholder satisfaction is a key predictor for workplace productivity. Productivity, in turn, is the hallmark of success. If you want to learn more about this relationship between what we say and what we do at work, contact Slaughter Development today to arrange a meeting. It may be time to “drill down” on “core competencies” to “address needs” “in this space.”

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Language and Weight Loss - Changing your habits at work doesn’t have as much to do with work as you might think. For advice on how to be more effective in becoming more productive, we turn to the world of dieting.
Read on »
Other Duties as Assigned - Often, an idle comment made by an employee speaks volumes about their work environment. Consider a message sent via the social networking site Twitter.
Read on »
From Threat to Request - In yesterday’s edition of The Methodology Blog, we reviewed a poorly-worded email message from management. Today, we will show how to rewrite that same text so that it fosters satisfaction and productivity. Read on »
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