Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Just listen to us

Emma Green, an associate editor at The Atlantic, has traced the history of office speak from the beginning of industrialization up to now.

It's not surprising that the buzzwords heard in offices mirror the major emphases in corporations at the time, whether efficiency, or firing people or finance.

I thought I'd pass on a taste of her fine article from the end: the buzzwords we use today. This will be more fun, because some of these are considered sacred and suitable for derision. And we're so busy using them that we perhaps cannot hear ourselves. In 10 years the buzzwords will be different, and these will look silly.

Take diversity. The language surrounding this enthusiasm has evolved, Green writes.
Luke Visconti, the CEO and founder of Diversity Inc, points out that the language used to talk about race, class, and sexual orientation has also changed. “When we first started our publication in 1997, it was diversity, and then it became diversity and inclusion. Detractors will call it political correctness or whatever they want, but the real emphasis revolves around talent development. The language of equity and outcome is important.”
Translation: we're supposed to scrunch our brows and look serious.

Of all the different kinds of office speak, diversity talk is probably toughest to untangle, Green writes.
It’s easy to make fun of buzzwords like engagement, dialogue, recognition, experience, awareness, education. Everyone I spoke with recognized that there’s a certain amount of eye-rolling that comes with diversity trainings—“talk of yellow people and purple people, that sort of thing,” quipped Shawna Vican, a doctoral candidate who is studying organizational change at Harvard.
As Green notes, everyone makes fun of it, but managers love it, companies depend on it, and regular people willingly absorb it.

We engage in this babble the same way we went along with rightsizing, downsizing, making reductions in force, streamlining, restructuring, letting go, creating operational efficiencies.

Hey, they fired us! But we had a nice name for it.

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