Breaking down the language barriers

We’re having a town hall-style meeting to cascade the purpose. (Just so you know.)

While we’re there, in full-flight of unbridled purpose-cascading, we’re also going to socialise it amongst the team and wash the messaging through the integrated platforms.

After lunch, we’ll reframe our strategic parameters, syndicate the idea, and then – around 4pm, just when you’re keen to knock off for a drink – we’ll put a smell-check across the campaign.

If you have no idea what’s going on in these three sentences, you’re not alone.

In my first month or so of life after ‘switching to the dark side’ (as people constantly reminds me – I’m a recovering journalist) I’ve encountered a mountain of this sort of language within business. It’s foreign to me because you’d be put up against a wall and shot for using jargon in a newsroom. After hearing about a ‘town-hall style meeting to cascade the purpose’, I began making a list (and checking it twice) of these meaningless turns of phrase. It’s filled a page and is pushing for a second.

I’ve also noticed it in New Zealand political party philosophies leading up to the 2014 election.

Act’s philosophy, for example, talks about “maintaining sound economic management, including (but not limited to) a balanced government budget, price stability and a free and open market economy”, while Labour states, “all political authority comes from the people by democratic means including universal suffrage, regular and free elections with a secret ballot”. Sounds like something out of Politics 101, rather than philosophical statements for the people.

These sentences may not mean much to the average New Zealander and seem aimed more at those who are politically plugged in – or fans of multisyllabic language.

Contrast that with National’s philosophy, which centres around “building a society based on values [such as] individual freedom and choice, personal responsibility, limited government…” and the Greens’ philosophy, which includes easy to understand phrases such as, “support ideas on their merit, regardless of where they originate” and “recognise our duty of care towards those who cannot speak for themselves”.

Which parties do you think will identify with middle New Zealand, judging by the language? (Judge for yourself and read all the philosophies here.)

Why do we use this sort of complex language? My personal view is that it’s a sort of cultural capital within business, a way of being part of the conversation and the group-think without risking face by putting forth something original and being shot down.

Because these phrases are commonly used, and because there’s no real meaning behind them, they are ‘safe’ things to say. When you say you’re going to cascade the purpose, half your audience doesn’t know what it means – and is too afraid to admit it – while the other half welcomes you into the fold of the group.

But being safe, or being part of the group think mentality, isn’t going to achieve much. Being safe is fine to maintain the status quo, but is that what you really want?