The odi­ous lan­guage of busi­ness

To be un­der­stood in the board­room, less re­ally is more, writes

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The great­est at­tribute and essence of good writ­ing and jour­nal­ism is be­ing able to say what­ever you need to say sim­ply and clearly.

The best kind of writ­ing is that which takes the most com­plex and tech­ni­cal sub­jects and ex­plains them in ways any­one can un­der­stand. That’s be­cause the whole point is that in­for­ma­tion must be shared and de­mys­ti­fied.

As jour­nal­ists, we don’t al­ways get this right, but as peo­ple who’ve been prac­ti­tion­ers for al­most two decades, we al­ways strive to do this. That’s the world we come from. Heck, it’s part of what we sell in our busi­ness of con­tent cre­ation.

This piv­otal an­chor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, how­ever, is some­thing that seems to have com­pletely es­caped the world of busi­ness.

Last year, as we started ma­noeu­vring our way in the world of busi­ness and in­ter­act­ing with cor­po­rate clients as a start-up busi­ness, we learnt that some­times we needed a the­saurus or an or­a­cle to de­ci­pher what peo­ple were try­ing to say to us.

The world of busi­ness seems to take pride in the jar­gon it uses, whether writ­ten or spo­ken.

Some­times the lan­guage is stiff and for­mal (and in ef­fect in­ac­cu­rate) when there truly is no need for it. For ex­am­ple, we would like it if peo­ple sim­ply “got back to us” in­stead of “re­vert­ing”.

Now this is all new to us, so we’ve bat­tled with whether we should fa­mil­iarise our­selves with this lan­guage so that we are taken se­ri­ously and gain easy ac­cep­tance when deal­ing with po­ten­tial clients, or stick to our guns and keep it sim­ple. Say things like “this is what we can do for you”, rather than the tire­some “value propo­si­tion”.

We think these man­age­ment-type crutch words are de­signed to make the peo­ple who ut­ter them seem smarter than they are so they can show off their fancy qual­i­fi­ca­tions, while leav­ing ev­ery­one else (the plebs like us) con­fused.

The im­pact of us­ing these words is of­ten the op­po­site, in that they seem empty and dead. They rarely con­vey or cap­ture what they truly mean.

Many times, we have been locked in board­rooms with se­nior lead­ers who wax lyri­cal by us­ing the most con­fus­ing, jar­gon-filled phrases, and our eyes glaze over as we try to make sense of what they mean.

Some of the favourites we have come across are things such as “learn­ings”.

“Some of the learn­ings we can take away from that work­shop are...”

Why not sim­ply say what you mean, which is: “This is what we learnt at that work­shop.”

When did ex­pres­sions like these even be­come words? I ac­cept that lan­guage is con­stantly evolv­ing, but why does busi­ness cre­ate and hog the worst sort of words?

Also, last time I checked, a take­away is fast food like fish and slap­tjips.

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