I have heard that the higher up you get in the corporate hierarchy the better you are able to control your vowel movements.
The infinite value of “huh?”
Are you bombarded with business BS from your boss? Fear not. I have a magic potion for you. A fail-safe way for you to combat the confusion. Read on to discover this secret to clear communication.
Why is it that the higher one climbs in corporate America, the more one slides into the ugly abyss of vague communication?
It’s as if on the day Joe Manager receives his promotion to the corner office, he shrugs and mumbles to himself: “Well, thank goodness I won’t have to speak or write coherently any longer. Feeeoosh. What a relief that is.”
I wonder if there’s a book they all read called “The Executive’s Guide to Ridicule”. The rulebook for mindless jargon, euphemisms, weasel words and other slimy ways to appear pompous and cunning.
There must be. Here’s a real example from a high-level big-wig:
“We will facilitate a panel interaction with principals instrumental in the reconstitution of the service delivery systems that highlight the personnel methodologies and operational dynamics of our current ‘work in progress.’”
Ok chief, I’ll get right on that.
But fear not. I, John Sturtevant have a magic potion for you. A fail-safe way for you to combat the confusion. A sure-fire weapon against weasel words.
Listen carefully. This is it: Ask dumb questions.
That’s right. When you receive confounding orders from the boss as he’s strutting down the hall toward yet another mind-altering PowerPoint presentation, simply reply “Huh?” “Come again?” “Do what now?” “Say what?”
When you received his enigmatic email with your orders for the week, return it marked “unintelligible”.
You see, when you’re confused by something you read at work, it’s not your fault! You should understand everything that comes across your desk, and is relevant to your job. So stop taking the blame for his blasphemy! Tell your manager you have no earthly idea what he’s talking about.
Remind him that you’re smart, clever, capable, eager, and willing to do your job well. But you won’t settle for lame directions and vague expectations from the C-level Club.
In short, expect him to act like the human being he likely was before the promotion.
The “7%-38%-55% Rule”
In the 1970s, UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian created a study on the relative importance of various types of communication.
He found that a mere 7% of the meaning in communication came from the actual words. Ninety-three percent came from nonverbal communication. Of that, 38% of the meaning was in the tone and inflection, while 55% of the meaning came from body language.
And yet, the busy executive rarely makes the time to really communicate. Instead, he rattles off a memo and expects his eager staff to understand every nuance and rationale, then carry out his orders flawlessly.
Be honest. How many times have you slouched at your desk, or staggered down the hall in a cold sweat, clueless about something your boss just told you? Lord knows I have. And let me tell you, it’s a horrible feeling. I know I’m not the only one who’s suffered.
I recently taught a writing workshop at a major oil company in Houston. Among the group were four lawyers for the company. A brave one among them told us a story about how the president of her company had sent an email to the legal department asking them to check into something. But they couldn’t figure out what he wanted, or why, or when.
I’m not making this up. The brave lawyer and three of her colleagues huddled in a conference room for FOUR hours, EVERY FRIDAY for THREE WEEKS, trying their hardest to decipher the cryptic request. What did that cost the company in billable hours and lost productivity? Thirty-five thousand dollars? More? Plus the immeasurable cost of four lawyers with grumpy attitudes.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Believe in the power of “huh?”
The next time you’re barraged with BULL, find a moment to corner your boss. Say to him “Stan, you’re a good person, and one heck of a manager. But Stan? I haven’t a clue what you’re telling me. Could you take it again from the top, once more with feeling?”
I’ll bet you’ll see his shoulders settle a bit, a warm smile will wash across his face, his eyes will brighten. Then he’ll nod with appreciation, put his arm around your shoulder and say “thank you.”
Or, he may growl at you and walk the other way. But be patient. And keep repeating “say what”?
Learn more about the author, John Sturtevant.
Comment on this article
Posted by Arne Antos, Gig Harbor, Washington |
Apr 15, 2011
Posted by Shari Shaw, Casper, Wyoming |
May 30, 2011
Love this article, John. It applies to more than the business world. Real estate agencies, car dealerships, politicians and more seem to hire "instructions complicators." I'm with you, if it's not clear it's not because I'm an idiot! (I mean, I am an idiot, but that's got nothing to do with unclear communication! :)
Thanks for the article!
- communication skills
- business communications