Clear speak, not business speak please!

‘Unplanned, obscure communication is inefficient. It always leads to confusion and at worst, can be a fatal flaw.’
Issue date 01 August 2008

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If you’re not actively working on improving your communication skills, you’ll never really make the grade as a great manager. This doesn’t mean you have to be slick with words. It means that the people in your organisation who need to know are always informed and that they understand the message.

Planned, clear communication is efficient. Unplanned, obscure communication is inefficient. It always leads to confusion and at worst can be a fatal flaw. Communication is like a lubricant to an organisation. Without it, rapid failure is a certainty. Low levels and bad quality of communication lead to poor performance and premature failure.

With top quality and regular topping up, the sky’s the limit. Management’s communication tools are the spoken or written word and the language of numbers. Just as an artisan needs training to use a tool, so does a manager. Consider this reply to Chris Barron, a Sunday Times columnist, from businessperson and former Foreign Affairs director-general Sipho Pityana, when questioned about his statement that there needs to be a settlement which keeps Jacob Zuma out of court.

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Barron asked, “Wouldn’t he want to go to court as quickly as possible so he could concentrate on the elections?” Pityana replied, “The question is predicated on your thesis that a delay is wholly due to his machinations. But my comment is not about that, it is about the reality that we confront today. That the context of this trial will produce all kinds of sociopolitical instability.” Now I admire the amazing level of English fluency of many of our public figures speaking in their second or third language, but this is obscurity at its worst.

Pityana seriously needs some communication training. But he’s in good company. consider what former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld said in a press briefing. “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns – there are things we know, we know. We also know there are known unknowns, that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

There is a wonderful organisation called the Plain English Campaign. Have a look at their website Apart from drawing attention to gobbledygook of the sort Pityana and Rumsfeld uttered, they’ve researched and identified the misuse of words which interfere most with good communication – clichés and overused phrases which are a barrier to communication. The following are examples of message killers used in everyday communication: “you know what I mean?”, “I hear what you’re saying”, “the fact of the matter is”, “to be honest”.

Businesses resound with corporate “management speak”, typically used to make something seem more impressive than it is. Here are some of my pet hates: “move the goal posts”, “think outside the box”, “pushing the envelope”, “core competencies”. When listeners get bombarded with these tired expressions, they tune out and miss the message, assuming there is one. Get them out of your vocabulary and witness the new-found enlightenment on the faces of your listeners. E-mail Peter Hughes at [email protected] or call (013) 745 7303. |fw