Business english and the rotting of good communication
The consequences of my career choices after a MBA haven’t been all bad. There have been opportunities to travel, learn, think, do, make terrible mistakes, prepare PPTs, prepare more PPTs but call them “decks” for variety and finally two things that raise the hackles of some of my friends who haven’t chosen management as an option; network and use business English.
Well, networking’s necessary. Tough shit y’all.
On business english, you have a sympathizer. I detest it. Unfortunately I’m also one of the worst offenders. I can’t help it! The modern workplace is a miracle of emasculation. Absolutely no straight-talk is tolerated unless you’re at the top with enough levels below you to let the guano trickle onto until it thins out.
I sat stewing yesterday, drained out after a long month of business-planning exercises. They’re great fun except for the part where you have to write emails telling others about those business-planning exercises. You know, those emails remind me of the narrow, green on white, sterile corridors of a hospital. If they could smell like anything other than the metallic effluvium of your CPU, they would smell like those hospital corridors. Ugh.
It’s not all anesthesia and formalin, though. There are moments of fun. In one memorable incident a particularly formal client replied to my email from her Blackberry and the damn thing autocorrected my name to “Nerd” (how the hell did it know?). She had marked her superiors on the email. No amount of “Sent from my smartphone with two thumbs” style disclaimers could help her after that. I swear I received her call before the mail.
“Hey [name redacted] [use ‘Nerd’ as placeholder]!! *insanely cheery voice which made me suspect she was high*”
“Hi! How are ya?”
“Ermm globbleglurblegluggichwuggleblemchuftaftikicfluggle” (that’s what her profuse apology and explanation sounded like to me)
“Huh? What happened?” *email ping* I read. “Ah, ok. Haha, no problem…” (I made a joke about it being true in an effort to calm her down but it just made things worse)
“GLARBLEGORBLEGLIBOOLURGWULL!!!!!!!” she glurbled with apoplectic guilt.
“No no! I insist, it’s OH KAY! Calm down! No harm done.”
“Are you sure? I’m really glurbleglotchitpooglewifshshaft about it”
I’m afraid to attend any more meetings with her. Sitting in a room where the air is thick and apologetic tends to suffocate me.
A perpetual exception to stuffy language is your average South American. They’re the best! English isn’t their first language and they don’t give a fuck that it’s not. They seem to be very secure in their inability to string together a grammatically coherent sentence. Perhaps because everything they write *sounds* so sincere and emotive when you read it out. It’s hard to be offended.
“Not best to do but you decide!!!! Ciao x”
Was that a warning?! It feels like a gentle nudge towards the coconut water stand instead of the soft drink cart as we walk along Copacabana beach with the wind in our hair.)
Such exceptions aside, 99% of the day contains business english bugbears; the really UNNNGGHHHHHRRRAAAAAAAAAAA phrases. Here are my favorites.
Think Outside the Box.
Yo, what or where is this box you speak of? Are you referring to this cramped conference room where the projector doesn’t work unless you dance for it and the coffee tastes like civet cat poop (No, the bit left over AFTER you take away what will become Kopi Luwak)? Outside the box is sitting by a Bali poolside sipping mojitos dipping our legs in the warm tropical water. So if you’re uttering these words inside a cubicle or meeting room, shut the fuck up man.
I used to study with this gasbag sonofabitch who fancied himself a strategy expert. It wasn’t the fact that he didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about, it was that sanctimonious stare into the distance he adopted at the mere utterance of the word. As if he were a yogi atop Mt Everest, watching the apocalypse approach a few hundred years before anyone else. Trying to grasp the ramifications of the word as a student is like trying to change your own diaper as an infant. You’ll make a godawful mess. Just go with the flow and let someone else do it for you. Unfortunately it’s one of those bad habits that follow you into the workplace if not checked early. Repeat after me – I MAY WORK FOR MCKINSEY BUT I’M TWENTY-FIVE AND THERE IS NO FUCKING WAY I KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT MARKET CYCLES TO KNOW STRATEGY. I say the following from experience – Calling everything “strategy” is a tactic. Being honest enough to call it a tactic is good strategy.
The best part is, no one *really* knows what it means. It’s got something to do with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, but when it comes down to explanations, there is more hand-waving and gesticulation than in an argument between Italians. Managers start talking about synergy and then trail off mid-sentence with a part-dreamy, part-desperate look in their eyes. That’s when the hands take over. First they kind of listlessly come together, unsure
of their role. Then the hands slam violently into each other, which is supposed to represent cooperation between the cross-functional team (CFT). This is repeated many times so the point of cooperation is reiterated to the cross-functional team (CFT). The hands find renewed purpose by tracing wide, delicate arcs culminating in light Zubin Mehta-style flourishes and finally, coming to rest hesitantly by their owner’s sides. The rest of the room observes another brave attempt at explaining the inexplicable, nod their assent and move on, secure in the knowledge that when the revolution comes, they will be spared because they had synergy.
The email sign-off.
Yours sincerely is so passe. It’s usually some form of regard. Best regards (which is something I write. I don’t know why.) WARM regards, which is something I used to write, but it made me feel like a lech appraising women in a DTC bus. My WARM regards dear lady (lech-y chuckle)…so I gave that up. That said, qualifying your regard is a powerful tool when engaged in subtle political duels. For example, cases of performance meeting or exceeding expectations merit your warm or best regards. However, objectionable, sub-par behaviour can be called to attention by dropping the qualifier completely and ending it with a terse “Regards”. Even worse, dropping the “Regards” completely and just signing off with your name. That’s like “meet me behind the schoolyard after 4 and we’ll settle this with our fists”. Personally, I like “Cheers” but lack the disposition to back it up.
Speaking of email sign-offs, have some self-respect. Show us that you contain the basic vestiges of feeling shame and DELETE THOSE 75-LINE 54-PICTURE SIGNATURES! Pro-tip: to avoid looking like an asshole, always ensure the number of lines in your email exceed the number of lines in your signature. I’m looking at you, geniuses who reply to a lengthy email chain marking everyone with “thanks” or “OK”, leaving us with bruised fingers as we keep scrolling in the futile hope of eventually making it past your signature and getting to the context. Like trying to find an oasis in a trumpet-blower’s Sahara.
Bhenchod, this is one of those absolute temperature-raisers. I understand the challenge of addressing the collective but Hi All? ALL? All you scamps, all you jokers, all you brilliant motherfuckers ending world hunger. Qualify it with SOMETHING man! I tried writing “Hi everyone” but it felt like the awkward, gawky stumble of a sneaker-shod tourist into a dive bar full of Harley bikers. Now it’s “Hi folks” which sounds reasonable to me. Other suggestions are also welcome.
Hope you are doing good.
This phrase wears around its neck one half of a locket. The other half belongs to its lost-at-the-Kumbh-Mela brother, “hope this letter finds you in the pink of health”. It always makes me angry because it reminds me I haven’t donated to charity in a while and that I’m a self-absorbed asshole. If I were doing good, I’d be adopting African kids and conspicuously sticking one leg out of the slit of an evening gown. But I’m not, so just ask me if I’m well and get on with it.
At the end of the day.
… I go home. You go home. We curl into a fetal position on our sofas and try to pound away the lingering stink of the day’s memories by drowning them in alcohol. THAT IS ALL THAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF THE DAY AND ANYTHING ELSE YOU’VE HEARD IS WRONG OR THE FIGMENT OF YOUR IMAGINATION.
You mean reply, right? I thought revert was a U-Turn, a form of regression. If you still feel like using it, write “Please become Saudi Arabia by the close of business” instead. Hopefully that will change your mind. (Mental note: stop writing “revert” in emails)
Flip the presentation over/ shoot me an invite.
This “flip”, “shoot” business is a manifestation of our need to feel like we’re doing something dynamic, dangerous, macho, physical. An escape from the painful reality of spending hours flattening our butts on ergonomic chairs. A sad reminder that the glory of man has been reduced from hunting wooly mammoths for food to drafting emails with menacing threats to “revert with a response at the earliest.”
If you think I’m scoffing at others making these mistakes, think again. At least twice a day I’ll open my Sent folder and gawk at the filth I broadcast under the guise of communication. Many emails contain phrases I’ve mentioned above. It’s second nature and a horrible epidemic. This is why I hang onto Twitter when possible. The cadence, brevity and soul make me feel all is not lost. They provide inspiration, not just the odd chuckle or swoon and open up my world to the possibilities of good, evocative communication.
That is, until the next email, in which someone has flipped over yesterday’s strategy presentation and is waiting for me to revert with changes.
This post was one of Blogadda’s Spicy Saturday Picks.