12/7/12

Watch Your Language

"Business Development Coaching for Lawyers (“BDCL”) leverages a proprietary coaching structure that optimizes solutions-based tactics intended to catapult your practice to the next level. We partner with you, our clients, in pursuit of shared goals and strategic alliances. Simply put, our services at BDCL exceed the expectations of legal leaders who recognize the value of purposeful investments in human capital as a means of preparing and aligning people and systems in pursuit of growth." 

Say what?

Why does corporate America speak this way? What is the origin of this weird language?

Maybe it began in George Orwell’s classic political and science fiction novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, set in a future dystopian society where ideas explore the concept of humans coping, or more accurately, the inability to effectively cope with, technology that has progressed far more rapidly than humanity's spiritual evolution. The fictional language of that society, “Newspeak”, attempts to influence thought via how we express our language.

Written during the Cold War, the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is a bleak commentary on the human race and a warning against the dangerous probabilities of communism. 

Today in 2012, after the fall of communism and the Berlin Wall, Nineteen Eighty-Four is now a haunting reflection of mass media, data mining, and its consequences. 

One consequence is a modern language whose quality is lamentable, one that overflows with pretention and euphemism– all of which contributes to fuzzy ideas and a lack of logical thinking. While Orwell’s Newspeak was fictional, our modern day language is all too real.

When hearing the jargon we’ve adopted that is so prolific in business, I cringe. Yet, it is easy enough to slip into the temptation to use hackneyed phrases and clichés and it is  frequently too great to overcome. 

Admittedly, I have unintentionally violated my own conviction using phrases that are vacuous and just plain embarrassing. Groping with an insecure, or more accurately, an insincere moment wanting to appear “important,” I’ve mumbled something about “shifting paradigms” a time or two and then winced at my infraction. Fortunately, no one noticed because they were deeply sheltered under their own overarching concepts taking shape out-of-the-box to drive initiatives. I’m just saying…

Challenging the current business lexicon while my contemporaries seemingly embraced the new language has been a solitary journey until recently. After attending a writing workshop entitled “Avoid Meaningless Clichés,” I realized that maybe I wasn’t so alone after all. 

Finally, someone else was spotlighting this dilemma. The presenter emphasized that when writing, every word must be chosen judicially and applied intentionally. "It is not enough to write so that you can be understood; you must write so clearly that you cannot be misunderstood." – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"Yes, yes, yes," I wanted to shout! Elated, I Google searched, hungry for more evidence that there was a in fact, a tribe emerging who longed for straight talk.

Then in an issue of Entrepreneur magazine, Erika Napoletano of Redhead Writing further emphasized the impact that language can have on business and dubbed the term “buzzspeak” in her article Big think, small movement. 

She asks, “Are nonsensical and annoying words sucking the soul of your business?” Napoletano contends that buzzwords are an excuse to talk around what we really mean to say and that to use them is lazy and disrespectful to our audience. She asks that we respect our audience enough to tell it to them straight.

As law firm marketers, we know clients are hungry for solutions to problems; they want them fixed quickly. So skip the buzzwords and don’t give them any “bandwidth” (another one of my favorite words). Listen instead of talking their ear off.

Napoletano cites four useful tips when communicating:

Simplicity: If you want them to buy what you’re selling, don’t make them learn a new language or feel inadequate when they don’t understand what you’re selling. They will shut down and buy from someone else. Don’t we see this every day when trying to convey our message to lawyers? Lawyers generally hate marketing jargon.

Brilliance: True brilliance reveals itself in what you offer to your clients. Your solution makes THEM look brilliant. You don’t need buzzwords to make you look brilliant.

Time: Your solution should save them time whenever possible; don’t waste it, just get to the point.

Usability: Respect your audience by offering easy-to-use solutions that make sense for how they operate. Asking them to change their day-to-day routine won't get you the yeses you crave.

Avoid these overused phrases whenever possible: Bandwidth, gravitas, bottom line, kicking the can down the road, drill down, on boarding, core competencies, value-added proposition, low-hanging fruit, going forward, take it to the next level, at the end of the day, and any other annoying phrases you hear every day, sometimes multiple times.

Finally, the folks at FightTheBull.com, and authors of the book Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, have developed a piece of software called Bullfighter that scans your writing for BS. I’m not kidding. 

The software measures three things: Bull Composite Index (BCI), which is your total score on a scale of 1 -10; Bull Index (BI), the number of jargon and corporate speak terms you use on a scale of 1-100; and the Flesch Reading Level (FRL), the "grade reading level" on a scale of 1-100. 

For all three scores, higher numbers are better. I’m definitely going to buy Bullfighter to test my own writing 

It’s the least I can do to support the straight talk revolution and put my money where my mouth is.


Editor's Note: Susan Baldwin is a guest blogger and legal marketing manager at a top AmLaw 100 law firm.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is especially evident in TV news where they now say bucks instead of dollars and kids instead of children.

Stephens said...

Well, we have a small tribe of 2300 people in the group at LinkedIn called Plain Language Advocates. Join us.

I have two saved searched at Twitter that are usually very rewarding:
#Jargon, and
#NoJargon.

Welcome to the movement.

 

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