Avoid Group Speak


“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” George Orwell

Have you ever seen someone unleash a flood of overused business clichés?  You know what I mean; their speech is littered with clutter.

At the end of the day Think outside the box Touch base Get the project off the ground Gain a strategic advantage Do a back of the envelope calculation

Blah, blah, blah.

Your mind checks out even before your eyes glaze over.

What would happen if someone responded to the first comment by asking, "Do you mean the end of TODAY? March 27th?" Or what if a person slid an envelope across the table with some penciled calculations rather than showing up with a spreadsheet?  In short, if Amelia Bedelia came to your office, what would happen to the office speak?

There's at least two reasons for canned group speak: proximity and conformity.

The proximity phenomenon is easily spotted. Did you really think Madonna wanted to sound English? Um.  Ok - bad example. But everyone's experienced, or at least observed, this happening.  I was busted recently by a babysitter who took a gig with a friend of mine. The next time the sitter came to my house, she talked about how much I sounded like my friend.

Yup. Guilty.The more you hang around the same people, the more likely you will adopt their speaking habits.

This is good news if your friends are kind, articulate, and thoughtful. But if your friends are negative, sarcastic, and critical, beware of their impact. In either case, solve the problem by mixing up your inputs!  Attend meetings unrelated to your business. Read articles outside your industry. Spend more time listening to people who are different from you. You'll be surprised what you can learn.

When proximity isn't the culprit, often the problem is a desire to fit in with the group's opinion. Uniformity in language is often an indicator of the more insidious groupthink - where people conform with each other in order to maintain harmony and avoid conflict.  The language of the group is  "smart," and people who do well in the group start to sound like everyone else. The subtle (or not so subtle) message is "be like us" to get ahead.

How do you know this is happening in your organization? How would you know if can't see the behavior in yourself? Start by approaching the topic using humor. Ask people around you to call you out if you use a canned phrase - or offer to pay them a dollar every time you say something identical to "the boss." Then leak your experiment to others. Make "talking about group speak" a group project.

Make non-conformity an option by breaking the link in one place: with you!

At the end of the day, you'll set the world on fire by thinking outside the box : )