Thursday, January 10, 2013

You might want to socialize this

I once worked with a brilliant fellow who came into my office one day complaining that his wife had not done something he wanted her to do. "I even wrote her a memo!" he exclaimed.

I was reminded of this because I just came across an hilarious article from several years ago in The Wall Street Journal by Jared Sandberg in which he discusses the tendency to bring corporate jargon home.
When Michael Schiller, a management consultant, wanted to talk with his 15-year-old daughter about where she was going with her friends, he told her, "You have to recognize your ARAs and measure against them." 
His wife rolled her eyes, knowing that he was using HR speak to address accountability, responsibility and authority. His daughter, he says, "looked at me like I was from outer space."
Really good stuff.
A couple of months ago, when Mike Puccini was griping at the dinner table about the whopper electrical bill, his wife said, "Well, you should push back." 
To which Mr. Puccini ultimately said what his children, young adults, were also thinking: "What are you talking about?" 
Argue the matter, she explained. 
"Then say that!" Mr. Puccini snapped, which resulted in the two of them "pushing back and forth for the next 20 minutes," he says. "Corporate lingo is worse than general slang and even curse words."
In the article Sandberg tries to get at why we talk this way in the office. A few ideas:
Those fluent in the corporate argot use it as easy shorthand. It's also a handy way to appear to know what you're talking about when you don't.

Kristine Fitch, editor of the journal Research on Language and Social Interaction, says linguistic patterns are sometimes habit, sometimes hidden agenda, sometimes both. "You can pretend it's just a habit," she says, but it is meant to signify your status in a group to which the audience doesn't belong. You get to talk like the boss, or sound like the latest leadership manual.
And this infects the children.
When Denise Watkins found that one of her girls was blaming the other for something that, say, broke by itself, she'd ask them, "What was the catalyst behind this?" 
"I told my husband we're speaking far too much corporate speech around here," she says. "Sometimes we don't even know what we're talking about."
And we're speaking too much corporate speech in the office as well.

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