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27 September 2016

Say what? Just tell it to me straight.

Written by: Alex Eeles, Principal Writer at Edelman

Consumer Trends & Insight

“What’s your time like today?”

How many of us have been asked that question by a colleague recently? And how many of us have answered by saying: “same as it always is: measured in seconds, minutes and hours using a clock.” If we didn’t, how many of us wish we had?

Of course, this is not the literal response our inquisitor is looking for. Instead, what they really mean is “can you do something for me today?” So why not just say that then? Why opt for something far more obtuse? It’s the same with “what’s your capacity like?” (my answer to which is about four pints of Guinness providing I don’t have a big dinner). Or “how’s your week looking?Seven days long, culminating in the weekend. “Or feel free to say no but…” Really? You’ll genuinely be OK with it if I say ‘no’?

This trend of asking without asking or saying one thing and meaning another is, of course, nothing new. It happens all over the place. I was guilty of it myself this morning when I instructed my five year old son to get dressed for school by saying “perhaps you would like to put on your uniform during Octonauts?”

But when it comes to working life, it feels especially annoying. Why? Because it wastes valuable time and usually leaves both parties unsure about what actually happens next. It’s also indicative of something far more insidious: the gradual erosion of clear communication in offices all over the world. Bizarre corporate jargon. Marketing speak. Acronyms that none but a few understand. Chronic verbosity. All are a sadly familiar part of life these days, especially with more and more content being pumped onto our smartphones and into our inboxes every day.

They are a crippling curse for communication. Sure-fire ways to turn people off, prevent your message getting across or stop it being listened to in the first place. As Harvard Business Review recently argued, bad written communication can even damage the productivity of your business.

It’s our industry’s job, no duty, to stop this creeping menace in its tracks. To help ourselves and our clients mean what we say but say what we mean too.

This isn’t about unleashing a monotone of single syllable words. Being clear isn’t the same as being dull or overly direct. And clarity, conciseness, elegance and impact can go hand in hand. It’s about talking in a way that our audience(s) understand, relate to and enjoy without having to translate it first.

So, with that in mind, I’ll give it to you straight: have you got time today to share this blog with someone else? Please don’t feel free to say ‘no’.


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