Syncing Up, Circling Back, Learnings and Asks, Oh My
There's a delightful Twitter thread about translation to corporate-ese:
The person tweeting this noted, "Everyone on my team (5 men ages 48-75) texts me to make sure the slang they’re using is correct in context. ... In return they translate my frustrations into professional corporate."
An example they shared of one of those translations to 'corpspeak':
Me: “How do I say this meeting is a waste of my time I am not paid enough to deal with your bullshit?”
Boss: “Can you provide me with a meeting agenda so I can ensure my presence adds value? I want to prioritize my schedule to support our most urgent needs.”
Great write-up on the way that corporate goals affect the language through the culture! Really enjoyed it, while also squirming in my chair. Here’s a couple additional thoughts that came up while reading it.
First, there’s the way that wider American culture affects these corporate goals. The great social psychologist Geert Hofstede identified several “cultural dimensions”, which reflect how different cultures handle the unavoidable facts of living together in large groups. He defined the dimension of “power distance” as “the extent to which the members of a society accept that power in institutions and organizations is distributed unequally”. (Note the word “accept”!) [https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1888-1]
While not lowest on the list, America rates towards the lower end of the scale on the social acceptability of power differences. In other words, we all know that power differences exist (especially in corporate environments!), but it’s super-rude to acknowledge them. Hence, “neutralisms”! [http://hopeinterculturalcomm.weebly.com/power-distance.html]
The second thought is closely related. At face value, your story about Company X’s “discount employees” illustrates how Americans handle power differences that become visible: social shaming by those with less power, followed by deliberate obfuscation by those with more power. But if that example really is typical (and I think that it is), it means that, in some way, everybody really got what they wanted! Workers called out the violation of a cultural norm, thereby establishing the validity of the cultural expectation. And the company got to “paper it over” with no real consequences. Mission accomplished!
If you’re like me in this regard, that observation feels really gross. Shouldn’t we want *actual* equality, instead of re-enforcing a culture where we all collude to ignore real de-valuation of human worth? Sure! But, as you correctly call out above, it’s easier this way.
Thanks for the post. Very thought-provoking!
Maybe treat people from Detroit better?
Task vs ask can be a massive difference in practice. Ask invites discussion, questions, and even entirely different solutions/product. Task emphasizes the power differential which can severely curtail discussion/pushback. That's often the difference between a successful project and a misguided disaster that half the team thought was stupid from day 1.
Three that I've actually found useful in bringing a meeting to a close (thanks to John Sidles) are: `let's lower the high-bar, declare victory, and celebrate our success'. The other one I like, `Now that we're arguing more and more about less and less, I think we can say we covered what we had planned to discuss.'
There is significant value in stripping the unnecessary baggage when using action items. We are not here to discuss who is assigning tasks to whom. We just want to get the list of work to be done, so that when people read it - be they managers, employees, outsiders etc, they just understand "what needs to be done". The rest is irrelevant, and you'll spend (waste) time discussing and thinking about stuff that not pertinent to the subject at hand.
I'm Israeli. In the hierarchy of being polite and indirect I'd say that Israelis are among the most direct. Something like Japan -> USA -> Israel. In Israel people can say "This is the stupidest idea I've ever heard", to the CEO. I've actually heard it said. However, we still use pivot, action items, and other such corporate speak terms. Because they're useful. They convey the meaning you want, and only the meaning you want. That's a very useful property.
Finally, some words are different than others, and some cultures/countries have different rules about what you're allowed to say. Pivot is a very useful term and describes something specific. It does not replace an easily defined concept. Another example is "to fire someone". While people are let go in Israel, there actually isn't "at will" employment. As a manager you are not supposed to reach a decision to fire someone until after the mandatory hearing (required by law). So you never actually tell anyone "you're fired". That could get you into legal trouble.
So I think it goes a bit deeper than what you describe. Still, a very interesting analysis, I like your insights.
I'm in favor of corporate-speak in a precise situation: when the logic of the corporation requires something not required of a purely human relations (e.g., working directly for someone with enough money to be the decider). When we work for corporations, we realize that we get paid extra for the extra economic leverage they have, but also we run the risk of being subject to purely economic decisions. (Notice this does not include corporate B.S.: where some individual misuses their corporate power for personal ends.)
And btw, "task" et al are not substitutes for "ask" where I've worked. "Ask" is restricted to an animating desire on the part of the customer in the relationship. It's how we make them happy, through this or that feature or app. If it were a drama, it would be finding love, getting justice, becoming enlightened, etc., and the drama could do that in a whole bunch of ways. But once done, there's some satisfying emotional epiphany, and a new life baseline :)
You don't have to be coy about the identity of Company X: the anecdote about "discount" being renamed to "standard" has been published before. https://fortune.com/longform/google-return-to-office-work-hybrid-remote-bay-view-pay-reduced/