“capability of communicating…”!?

Westpac’s CE Gail Kelly recently appeared before a Senate inquiry into banking competition. On discussing the bank’s approach to informing consumers as to why they need to raise interest rate beyond the reserve banks official rate rise she said:

“These are difficult matters and quite complex, and certainly we haven’t done a very good job of communicating and we need to improve our capability of communicating.”

When our role is to tell valuable stories in a way that can be absorbed quickly and easily how do we walk the line between over simplification and obfuscation?

Gail Kelly is an articulate person who stumbled under pressure. This gaff does highlight how ‘management speak’ (or weasel words as Don Watson likes to refer to them) can become part of the psyche of an organisation, moving from the written format to the spoken word.

However what constitutes a weasel word is somewhat subjective.

When we reviewed Don Watson’s website and some of the interviews we felt in between a rock and a hard place.

We agree passionately with him that it is unforgivable when organisations hide behind meaningless language. We believe that it is important to say clearly what you intend to do so that it is easy to measure whether you achieved it. Anything else damages your reputation.

However it is important to distinguish the difference between the desire to not commit, or to hide the meaning of what is being said in order to avoid delivering on a promise, from a concern with grammar and the natural evolution of language.

Are we concerned about:

  • Saying things clearly so that we can be held to account?
  • Using words in the context of their actual meaning?
  • Using language in a traditional, grammatically correct and elegant way?

What if I write a short sentence that is memorable and clear in meaning but is not the most elegant use of the English language? Should this be held up as an example of weasel words?

When reviewing language (whether it is for a speech or for a brochure) we ask ourselves (and our clients) the questions:

·       Are we clear about what we are trying to say?

·       Is what we are saying true?

·       Could we say it more simply?

Perhaps Gail Kelly could use these questions to communicate more clearly with her customers. You can find out more about Don Watson’s view on how language is infiltrated by management speak by watching this video or visiting his website.

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