Wednesday, December 28, 2005

"Business today is drowning"

“Business today is drowning in bulls--t.”

That’s the message (and opening sentence) of “Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide,” a short, breezy diatribe published this year by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway and Jon Warshawsky.

The authors, U.S.-based marketers and consultants, take aim at the jargon, clichés and thoughtless repetition that sums up most business communication today. Memos that say things like “the committee will report back with a work plan for implementing the mission-critical changes necessary to transform our company into a more agile, customer-focused enterprise” are not just contrived and dull, but inimical to the way human beings like to communicate.

“Outside of work,” say the authors, people enjoy “a fundamentally different kind of conversation – a human one, with stories and color. Informal, spontaneous, warm, funny and real.”

As a writer and marketing consultant, I agree. Too many business people hide behind bland, unimaginative, they-can’t-fire-me-for-this phraseology. It’s an excuse for not thinking, for not taking the time to see beyond the next necessary step in order to find more unique, imaginative solutions, ideas and challenges. Our dependence on jargon, I think, betrays a lack of confidence in ourselves, a lack of commitment to our projects, and a failure of imagination, which I think is essential in business.

The authors believe there’s a grim consequence to writing and saying that bore people: no one really listens anymore. Most business communication is intended to persuade people (customers, bosses, co-workers) to do something. But if nobody’s listening, nothing happens.

The authors’ goal is to restore your persuasiveness by helping you write and speak so that people will listen again. “Entire careers can be built on straight talk – precisely because it is so rare.”

What should you watch out for in your writing? Jargon, wordiness, evasiveness.

How can you gain more attention need influence? Be concise, the authors advise (in fact, their book is only 165 digest-sized pages). Use fewer words, and shorter words.

Brand your work by eschewing templated slides, phoning instead of e-mailing, writing more exciting titles or subject lines, using humour (carefully), or telling stories instead of explaining policies.

And show, don’t tell.

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