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Rubbish Words: Going back to basics

Rubbish Words: Going back to basics
Mark Thorpe crop

Hearing the term “socialise” used on a number of occasions recently got me thinking about the careless and unhelpful words we use. For me, socialise was always a verb used to refer to that challenging state of puppy ownership, or the equally challenging stage of parenting, as well as broader issues of sociological significance. Now, apparently, it also means embedding ideas, insights, findings (etc.) within a defined group of people. So, we shift from sharing, embedding, creating “buy in” to socialising. Why?

I just couldn’t get my head around it. Did everyone in the room(s) know what socialising meant? Did the person using the term know what it meant? If everyone knew what it meant, was that meaning shared or did each individual have a different interpretation? It was also a “floating signifier” – never attached to a specific action or set of actions or intended outcomes. It just is inherently meaningful in the fact that it exists. The problem is that it isn’t particularly meaningful, or in fact very useful at all.

Maybe I need to “pivot”? Pivot. Where on earth did that one come from? Thankfully, I’m not hearing the term very much these days. It seemed to come from nowhere in an instant, become utterly contagious and then….. Who knows? A linguistic form of Covid? For me, it was mostly unclear what I was supposed to pivot from, and where to pivot to. I even looked it up in the dictionary to make sure I wasn’t being a bit thick.

Maybe I’m just getting myself wrapped up in needless deconstruction. Deconstruction. Jacques Derrida anyone? The first time I heard this in a business context I almost fell off my chair. I had managed to lock the philosophical concept away for many years (and the associated university headaches). I’d heard it used in the context of cooking – a deconstructed dish of core constituent parts made visible. In business? My main problem is that the word never seems anchored to anything. “A more deconstructed approach is required”. What? Why? How?

It’s fair to say that business currently has enough problems and challenges to manage without making poor language and communication another. In a world of fragmentation, we need even more fragmentation like a hole in the head. When you need your best people navigating change, let’s ensure that they are all looking at the same map and steering in the same direction.

There are six things every business and every employee should do:

  1. When the next buzzword or phrase is used, question its meaning
  2. If you are in a meeting and don’t understand what “pivot” (or similar) means, you have a right to ask for clarification
  3. Look at the language you use currently and ask the question “is this really helpful”?
  4. Use a laddering technique on jargon – ask yourself “can I say this more simply?” When you find an alternative word or phrase that does the job better, ask the same question again until you hit bedrock
  5. Recognise that, often, you are what you say
  6. Remember that navigating change requires even greater clarity of communication and intent if you are to succeed

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