Ricky Gervais in the Office TV Show

Business Speak

Written by on 2nd June 2011
Category: Business Travel

The English language is a mutable thing, full of surprises and constantly adapting to its purpose. It’s one of its best qualities, but it’s not one that’s short of contention. Take the recent intrusion of the words ‘innit’, ‘grrl’ and ‘thang’ into the Collins Scrabble Dictionary. Now as an experienced Scrabble player myself, I know that’s only going to end in recriminations, tears and flying tiles.

In particular, the laissez-faire use of the language by businesses causes widespread irritation. After Lucy Kellaway’s Radio 4 dialogue on the subject was published on the BBC website, there were so many responses that the BBC compiled a list of the worst examples, from ‘going forward’ and ‘blue-sky thinking’ to ‘incentivise’ and ‘think outside of the box’. Meanwhile, a piece of software called ‘Bullfighter’ has been released, which scans writing for jargon and swiftly eliminates it.

So why do it? Well, many businesses convert uncomfortable phrases into euphemisms to make them more palatable: take ‘challenge’ to substitute the more negative ‘problem’, or ‘let go’ to replace the decidedly less friendly ‘give the sack’. Businesses also create new phrases to refresh old ideas, making them sound fresh and new. The problem is that gradually these new phrases become as outdated or unpalatable as the originals.

Business speak seems to rankle the most when it’s used within the workplace: most of the suggestions on the BBC list come from former employees of large corporations, some of whom resigned when they just couldn’t hack it any more. But it can be more subtle and more insidious when it’s used to communicate with people outside the business: from estate agent speak to advertising jargon, these slippery titbits of language can mislead us into thinking we’re getting a product that we’re not.

Businesses could benefit from cutting out business speak not just because they’ll stop irritating their employees, but because it could improve the way they communicate both within and outside of their organisation. Business speak goes against a natural human instinct to mirror others’ talking styles, which signals that we’re on the same level as them. As Robert Lane Green argues in a recent article in City A.M.: “When you talk like your conversation partners – speeding up for motormouths, quieting down with whisperers – you signal that you want to meet them on their ground. Doing the opposite, emphasising your different accent, vocabulary or dialect, is a way of saying ‘We’re not the same, you and I’.” If we really want to impress our colleagues and clients, Lane Green argues, we need to use plain, direct language.

It’s even more important to communicate properly in industries such as ours. Because serviced apartments provide a living space that our clients need to call home for months or even a year, it’s vital that none of the information we provide is confusing or misleading. In particular, the euphemisms beloved by estate agents can cause problems for people who are moving abroad and can’t see the apartment before they move into it. It’s therefore a central SilverDoor policy to avoid business speak in our property descriptions, website content and emails. This ensures that we’re as clear as we can be and that our clients know exactly what they’re getting. It also helps prevent rage blackouts around the office.