Tamsin Constable

Egypt and the ‘transition’ jargon

New York University’s ‘Aid Watch’ blog highlights a current example of empty words disguised as a political position. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has just called for a ‘transition to a democratic regime’ in Egypt. ‘The “transition” word is a much-used device to appear to be in favor of democracy while in fact taking no position whatsoever,’ writes NYU’s Professor of Economics, William Easterly. ‘…the “transition” jargon leaves completely open WHEN democracy will arrive, or HOW SLOWLY the dictatorship will imperceptibly fade away.’

Charities: use Plain English or lose funds

Write clearly – and tell a story – and you’re more likely to ride out tough economic times.

Plain English is crucial for getting your message across. A few (but nowhere near enough) businesses are beginning to take this on board. For charities, the need to communicate clearly is particularly important, facing financial squeeze not just from individual donors, but also from larger funders.

‘If people can’t understand what you’re saying, they’ll stop listening,” says Trina Wallace from Ngo.media, a London agency that specialises in writing for charities, in today’s Guardian online. ‘When charities use poor language … the people they support suffer. Funders switch off when they read proposals, campaigners won’t be inspired to take action and donors aren’t convinced to set up direct debits.’

Stripping funding applications and bids of jargon is one way to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Another is to use the power of narrative to illustrate your point. Well-written case studies or ‘business success stories’, complete with quotes and a basic story arc, always make good reading. A handful of these will help get your message across in a way that no amount of management jargon can ever do.

Corporate claptrap Part 2

Bosses: more vented feelings and juicy samples. I can’t even begin to justice to the forum responses; see Mumsnet for the full fun.

silo thinking
operational excellence
strategic pillars
corporate levers
visions and values
ramp ups
go lives
people being on and off message
engaged and positive people (or not!)

Warming up as in “lets warm him up before the meeting”
Sending out documents is so passé – “socialise” them instead
Paradigm shifts.
Solutions come in 2 flavours strategic or tactical
Vanilla – generic, as in no flavour…but vanilla is a flavour!! grr.
Piece – “action me to own this piece”
Space – “I’m working in an ideas space”
Reach out – talk to
Location agnostic (I’m not sure if I believe in locations?? )
Runway – project plan

My place is rife with this nonsense. I’ve been there so long that I’d actually forgotten that this is not a normal way to talk.

Have we had ‘functionality’ ‘litmus test’ or ‘audit trail’ yet?

‘all hands’ meetings.

“low hanging fruit” aka “easy wins” i.e. quick and easy things to do. Then you can Tickbox. Importantly.

Right, I am going to make a list of all of the “best” ones in preparation for our “cross business unit pollination” and we can play bullshit bingo at the meeting

“let’s discuss the technical underpinnings of this issue”.

shake the tree more. we are a leading solutions provider…

In our reports, our conclusions have to be labelled as opportunities and challenges rather than positives and negatives.

Let’s run it up the flagpole and see how it flies. For, as one of my old bosses memorably put it ‘if we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure’…

In my old company, the Sales Director used to be full of cliches. We used to play “cliche bingo” at the main sales conferences/updates we had to go to. One of his favourites was “punching above our weight”

Ugh, some of these are tooth-achingly familiar, mainly “going forwards” .

Also cannot stand being asked to “progress” something – just sounds so wrong being used that way. Or being “tasked” with something.

At my place there seems to be a consensus that the words “me” and “you” are too direct and rude to be used.
This results in phrases such as:
“I’ll await advice from yourself”
“We need to meet with yourself to discuss this”
“Please read the paper prepared by myself”

“Bend over and take a haircut” = oh dear, we need to lower our prices

“Let me throw you a concept grenade here…” The same person also later described a possible design decision as “creating a rod/back interface situation for us”.

Let’s take a helicopter view of the situation
Let’s put the wheels on the trolley and see which way it rolls
Managing customer expectations – hate that one. Just say no, it can’t be done, you can’t have it etc.
We need to eat a reality sandwich
It’s foot on the ball time
Financial services – it’s rich in ***speak

Don’t give me the birth pains; just give me the baby
Can you take this down as an action on you (Can you do it)
Let’s diarise (put it in the our diary?)
Revert back (there is no such thing!)
We really need to granulate this
And of course all the going forwards/c.o.p/stakeholders/scoping out… GRRRR

What your staff think about your corporate claptrap Part 1

Bosses: pay attention!

Your employees last week vented their rage at the corporate clap-trap they have to endure at work.

They came up with hundreds of hilarious examples of the empty, self-important jargon they hear from clients, colleagues … and in particular, from their managers.

Business jargon drives people mad. They don’t hear your message; they hear only pomposity. And if you think that gobbledygook increases people’s respect for you, think again – it does the opposite.

I do have a smidgen of sympathy – many people don’t even realise they’re talking or writing in jargon. So allow me to enlighten you, by quoting just a few of the comments from a Mumsnet forum last week – edited very slightly to remove some of the stronger language used to express frustration. There were so many gems that I’m going to split the posts.

Consider it a favour. Here goes with Batch 1:

‘from the get go’ – what the hell does that mean anyway?

We don’t want to be left scrabbling for the side of the bath. Let’s not reinvent the wheel. We don’t want to overegg the pudding. Now that you are inculcated.

piece… as in ‘I work in finance but i’d be really interested in becoming involved in the project management piece’

Why have a dog and bark yourself – meaning managers passing their crappy jobs that they don’t want to do onto the office pond scum

has anyone had ‘create a straw man’ yet. That one used to drive me mental.

My company actually banned the use of the word solution because it is completely meaningless.

We had bottoming out and trying to get to the end-zone too.

Argh. My boss always wonders what things will look like. She once followed it with ‘we’ll have to suck it and see’ and I was almost a little bit sick in my mouth <-sick face I sit in meetings playing twatspeak bingo. I’ve heard “cold hard cash” said 29 times in one 90 minute meeting by the same person is a standout bit of arsery. I just hate it all. I can’t help cringing when I hear jive like this!

Make sure you divert your device so that we avoid flat lining…

Hilarious! We get all of these. My boss is always saying ‘granularity’, ‘crunchy’ and ‘bandwidth’. It’s so annoying that I put in his appraisal feedback that he would sound more intelligent if he talked properly.

‘Into’ or ‘in to’?

Someone’s just asked me whether to use ‘into’ or ‘in to’. My instinct (into) was right, but I couldn’t explain why (and now you know I’m not perfect).

Of course I had to justify myself my ignorance by saying that it probably doesn’t matter, followed by a shrug. Then I left the room, by way of indicating that I had much more important things to do than waste my time on such pedantry.

Then I sloped off to find out, and here’s my freshly minted opinion on the matter.

You’ll be safe with into most of the time. The reason, I discovered, is because into expresses motion, direction, a change of state.

The swan waddled into the river.
He flew into a jealous rage.
The water froze into a slab of ice.

Here’s when to use in to instead: when the in part goes with the verb.

In I turned my gun in to a policeman, the ‘in’ belongs with the concept of ‘turning in’. If I wrote I turned my gun into a policeman, it would mean that my knife had become a policeman.

What about I stuck my knife into a pig?