What your office jargon says about you

blueskythinking1jWorkspeak has taken on a life of its own, often devoid of sense and clarity.

Going forward with our blue sky thinking, actioning and incentivising as we head for close of play on our shared journey, we offend in two major respects.

In the first place, we show linguistic insensitivity. We cobble together incongruent images, create ugly hybrids, use nouns and adjectives with cavalier disregard for their grammatical function.

The English language is continually evolving. It is robust and flexible and can take a hammering but the use of jargon ignores the wealth of possibilities in its vast vocabulary and ducks the challenge of finding clear and forceful expressions and developing images with the power to illuminate and to delight.

The second area in which grotesque jargon offends is more permanently damaging. When we know language is used to obscure meaning rather than to communicate, and to hide truths rather than make them known, and when we perceive that jargon is spouted to hide a lack of original thinking or real ideas, relationships in the workplace are damaged.

We lose confidence in each other. We stop trusting. We lose a sense of human connection. We really do feel that we are speaking different languages.

When we pick from the stock of cliches at our disposal, we may be revealing a little bit about ourselves. Take the plethora of phrases which convey the idea of testing reaction to something.

Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes

salute1A little bit military, this one? It brings to mind concepts of loyalty and deference, of uniformity and hierarchy.

You might secretly or not so secretly like a touch of the yes sir/ma’am/no sir/ma’am. You might like things to be ordered and predictable.

Let’s put it out on the stoop and see if the cat licks it

catlick4jNow this is a homey image, one which brings to mind an domestic world of back yards and front porches, a bit Norman Rockwell, a bit The Waltons.

You’re something of a softie, aren’t you, in a nice way? You may be a calming presence and you may be perceived as someone who values relationships.

Let’s hold out the baton and see who picks it up

batons1This is hovering dangerously in the area of sporting analogies, alienating to many and often inappropriate to a workplace.

It suggests a tense, competitive atmosphere in which people are constantly tested and live in fear of being the one to drop the baton and let the whole team down.

Some phrases are used in order to make the speaker sound important

Not on my watch

meerkatsentry1The expression has a good ring, serious, responsible, principled.

You are the officer responsible for the safety of the ship and the crew.

Awake and alert, you stand on the bridge, gazing across the ocean, eyes peeled for pirates or other hazards, ready to raise the alarm and ward off disaster.

But, oh dear, you’re not. You’re in an office in Slough.



targethead2Why have we so unthinkingly adopted this vile phrase and applied it to a process of recruiting people for jobs?

Its original reference is to collecting the heads of killed enemies as trophies. Are you really proud to have your head collected as a trophy by a recruitment company?

In addition, the using one part of the body to refer to the whole person (known as synecdoche, in case you were wondering) has a dehumanising effect when applied in a work context. Referring to people as factory ‘hands’, for example, reduces people to a function.

All aboard the learning train

ontrain1jEducation jargon is full of acronyms and baffling terminology, but here’s an image I rather like.

The phrase implies a shared purpose, a variety of destinations and the possibility of interesting discoveries and exciting encounters on the way. (Think of films The Lady Vanishes, Murder on the Orient Express, Strangers on a Train).

Some of your fellow passengers will become lifelong friends. Sometimes you’ll travel at full speed, at other times you will slow down. You might become derailed for a while and have to get back on track. And you will persevere with your journey because you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in a waiting room, stranded at Crewe.