"Hmm," you might be thinking, "what in the name of results-driven paradigm shifts does that headline mean?"
The authors of "Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter's Guide" (Free Press, 2005) would say that the title is just another example of the bloated jargon that pervades the "official language of business -- bull." Brian Fugere, partner at Deloitte Consulting LLP; Jon Warshawsky, a manager at the firm; and Chelsea Hardaway, a former Deloitte director, attribute the verbal subterfuge of the business world to three sources:
* Business communicators' focus on themselves over the readers. "When obscurity pollutes someone's communications, it's often because the author's goal is to impress and not to inform."
* Fear of concrete language. "In business we like to avoid commitment. Liability scares us."
* A relentless attempt to romanticize whatever it is that they do for a living. "[That] allows business idiots to pretend to be secret agents and quarterbacks."
The authors guide readers through some horrifying examples of pretentious and obtuse written communications from companies with household names. "When there is bad news to deliver, jargon is a business idiot's biggest ally," the authors note. In a memo announcing a global workforce reduction of 20 percent, Warner Music Group's chairman and CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. starts off with, "We are announcing today a series of necessary restructuring steps that are critical to the future of Warner Music Group. ... All of these steps are based on a careful and thorough analysis of all aspects of WMG's needs and operations, undertaken in close collaboration with the Company's senior management over the past few months. It is of utmost importance that we make the necessary changes as quickly as possible so that WMG can begin to move ahead with increased strength and confidence as a more competitive, agile and efficient organization." This, of course, is just a long-winded way of saying that some people had to clean out their desks and turn in their key to the washroom.
While such examples may have more relevance to corporate communications managers than finance executives, much of the book is directed at avoiding what the authors characterize as the "Obscurity Trap" in presentations and individual communications, both written and verbal -- and therein lies its value. The book offers sound advice that's really pretty simple -- be yourself and keep it real. The authors recommend four basic techniques to help businesspeople achieve authenticity and make others actually want to hear what they have to say:
* Don't get "templatized." "Idiots fall over themselves 'leveraging' everyone else's materials and filling in the blanks in prefabricated presentations. If you want your audience to sit up and take notice, you have to stamp your work with your own uniqueness and personality."
* Embrace your own imperfections. "Perfection and predictability will get you good grades in that business school presentation class, but to your audience they scream 'prefabricated,' 'rehearsed,' and 'canned.' Lose some of that polish and show a bit of that human imperfection."
* Don't check your sense of humor at the door. "Unfortunately for all of us, most people who have a sense of humor leave it in the parking lot when they go to work. But you don't have to. And you don't have to be a stand-up comic to use humor, in a smart and professional way, to beat the Anonymity Trap."
* Be visible -- and "Pick up the damn phone." "If you want to spend a career flying below the radar, dull e-mails and conference calls with 20 faceless people are the fastest path to that gold watch. But if you want to beat the Anonymity Trap, you need to reject the invisibility that comes with these invisible media."
This is must-read stuff for all of us who want to avoid being perceived as boring business stiffs.