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18 January 2019
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Let’s outlaw management speak

6 October 2014  

It's time to rid the workplace of management jargon, blogs John Bowen. 

Following on from last week and some of the things I mentioned on meetings, another aspect jarred with me the other day: management speak.

I was listening to a panel discussion and really should have written down some of the phrases used so that I could repeat them here, but I was so mesmerised that I didn’t.

The odd thing was that the subject was clarity in reporting performance. I think I understood most of what was being said, I can’t be certain. 

At the moment I am in America, where we are less two nations separated by a common language - we have diverged linguistically somewhat. I have been coming here for over twenty years and slip into American without thinking. I stroll on the sidewalk, get my water from a faucet and put my shopping in a cart. 

Given the ethnic melting pot that makes up modern day America, perhaps we British should be flattered that they base their language on ours. It is their language so I suppose they should be entitled to do what they like with it, for our own version steals from all over the place; Latin, French, Germany, Scandinavian et al

It would be easy to blame the Yanks for some of the abuse of English that we see at home, for they do come up with some beauties. This week I overheard someone talking about the need for strategisation, but this was no captain of industry, it was two Mums talking about organising the school run. 

The discussion that I referred to earlier was in Europe, and the people that I was listening to were British and, supposedly, talking in their native tongue. Over the years, and with the close working relationships that I have had with so many exponents of the art, my own take on this fad for talking gibberish is that it is a mixture of self aggrandisement and a cover for not actually having anything useful to say. 

A bit like the emperor’s new clothes, the hope is that no-one will challenge you in case they make themselves look silly. We need to grow the ranks of those who are prepared to call people on these issues. If they can say the same thing in plain language, all well and good. 

Communication needs to be clear and there is nothing worthwhile in using language that is, at the least, ambiguous. Of course, language needs to evolve and keep up with the times, but management speak is a cul-de-sac and not a part of moving language forward.

Speak clearly, use simple words that everyone can understand and people will take notice. If you actually have anything worth saying then they will be interested and more inclined to listen. Communication is two-way after all, so why try to close off the listener?

Today is my birthday, and if there is one present that I really would like, it is to see a concerted campaign to rid the world of corporate nonsense. I thank you in anticipation.

John Bowen is an FM consultant