Plasticized words make the most trouble. Unfortunately, public education in America does not appear to care; public educators are some of the worst abusers of words, disconnecting words from meanings to achieve an agenda, which is practicing mental terrorism. Poerksen (1995) discusses this phenomenon in some detail, and the need to be more cognizant of the problem is a small part of the solution. For example, Poerksen (1995) brings up the term ‘strategy’; the context might not be clear. Without specifying the intention and meaning, the audience becomes lost quickly but lost with confidence and lost doing what they understand.
Hitler’s Germany was famous for plasticizing words to make socially unacceptable actions acceptable with no negative consequences. For example, consider how cattle cars were used in the transportation of Jewish Citizens and other humans deemed useless, by plasticizing the term “cattle,” the Jews could be eliminated, society could believe what they were doing as acceptable, and the political agenda of Hitler was pushed forward, because a human of different religion, handicap, and so forth has been dehumanized to the level of cattle.
Poerksen (1995) is correct in labeling those who intentionally destroy language through plastic words as tyrants and tyrannical actions. Mao was an excellent speaker, but his deceiving methods included making words plastic to cover abuses of people, destruction of lives, and to help his followers feel good about what they were doing. Likewise, ex-President Obama used a TelePrompTer because extemporaneous speaking is not his forte and because of the plastic words which were bent, twisted, and molded to deceive. We all remember the promises of Ex-President Obama where ObamaCare is concerned. However, what is fading from the collective public memory are the plastic expressions lauded upon Bergdahl to justify nefarious actions. Bergdahl is a tiny example of how Ex-President Obama manipulated language to hide, obfuscate, denigrate, and deride the American People.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
If you are going to work in a department with such an auspicious title as “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department (DEI), one might imagine that you have a clear and present understanding of the power of words. But, apparently, those working in DEI either have an agenda and desire to be tyrants or are uneducated in the power and ability of words. Draw your own conclusion, but I present in totem an email received earlier this week while I was out of the office.
12 Things You Should Never Say… And What To Say Instead
It’s easy to say the wrong thing when you’re under stress or a problem arises. Take a pause to reframe your response:
- That’s not my problem. ‘I recommend you speak to_____’
- But we’ve always done it that way. ‘That’s a different approach, can you tell me why it’s better?’
- There’s nothing I can do. ‘I’m a bit stuck, can you help me find other options?’
- This will only take a minute. ‘Let me get back to you on a timeframe.’
- That makes no sense. ‘I’m not sure about that one – can you give me some more details on your thinking behind it?’
- You’re wrong. ‘I disagree and here’s why ______ what do you think?’
- I’m sorry, but…. ‘I’m sorry about that… next time I will _____’
- I just assumed that. ‘Could you clarify what your expectations are for me?’
- I did my best. ‘What could I do better next time?’.
- You should have... ‘It didn’t’ work – here’s what I recommend next time…’
- I may be wrong, but... ‘Here’s an idea…’
- I haven’t had time. ‘I will be able to get this done by…’
And if you have said something you regret, here are three steps to quickly recover:
- Apologize. Be sincere for any upset or confusion you might have caused
- State what you didn’t mean. Admit your error, explain what you did not intend to do or say.
- Say what you actually meant. Explain what you really intended to say or do.
Please note, no grammar changes were made in copying and pasting this email; I changed the format to emulate the original. So now, let us carefully examine, without judging the grammar, the canned phrasing presented here along three lines: applicability, usefulness, and value.
When discussing applicability, we are looking for situations where the canned phrasing offered is better than being natural, admitting error honestly, and moving forward from the current position in a constructive manner. I fully appreciate that the 12 bolded phrases might not be the best way to state something. However, the lack of applicability for the canned replacement phrases does not improve the situation. Imagine a situation where the offered canned phrase would work, and I will show you a real-life scenario where it was tried and failed miserably.
Drawing upon more than 20 years of experience in and around call centers as a subject matter expert, as a customer relations expert, and published author, I can certify that canned phrases do not improve situations, nor can they cover mistakes. Canned phrases stick out like a red dot on a white cloth! The customer can hear the canned phrases, and the canned phrases will result in negative consequences! Hence, this information from DEI fails the smell test before ever launching as a potential solution.
When discussing the usefulness of a tool, the first aspect to always note is that any tool should feel comfortable, almost as if it was an extension of yourself. Tools are intention incarnate; we select tools to perform tasks we cannot perform without the tool. For example, hammering nails into house framing requires a hammer. Not just any hammer, but a framing hammer, specifically designed for the job, framing, and because all framing hammers are not manufactured equally, should feel like an extension of your arm and hand. The same is true for words; words are tools employed to communicate and should feel like an extension of yourself, be personal, and be helpful for the intent of delivering a message.
Again, we find the DEI email and canned phrases not passing the smell test. Take any single item in the list above and try to use the exact phrase in a sentence with a friend or co-worker, and you will find yourself struggling to personalize that phrase. Worse, saying it aloud makes you struggle with the offered grammar. So again, try personalizing that phrase; can you find any variation that feels natural to your method of speaking? If so, you have used the offered phrase, but does it add or detract to the conversation when applying that phrase? Herein lay the problem, some of the proposed phrases might work with individual variation but still cannot be used for a positive result.
Value is the sum of the application and usefulness of a tool to create opportunities to advance the situation to a solution positively. More to the point, the value remains in the hands of the tool user, not the suggester of canned phrases. Thus, the tool’s value is not found in what has been created but in the usefulness and application to the tool’s user.
For example, while working in a call center, the agents were instructed to fit as many “keywords” into a conversation as possible. The Quality Assurance Department (QA) was counting how often these keywords were used, so the pressure to perform was on the agent. QA found that the offered words were often used in a single sentence to begin or end the call, and more often than not, when used during a call, led to call escalation. Hence, the value of the terms was lost on the customer and worsened customer relationships. Instead of releasing the agent from using keywords, the business managers doubled down. The management team had no clue about the usefulness of the words as tools for communication and disregarded the need for tool personalization. When negative results occurred, they compounded their error. 10-years after this disastrous decision, the agents are still forced to use tools that do not fit, the customers have continued to leave in droves, and the management team still struggles to understand why.
Application, usefulness, and value are how you measure tools, any tool. From a tape measure to a hammer, from a computer to computer software, from words to headsets, the tools must meet these three criteria. Unfortunately, buzzwords and canned phrases do nothing to build value, enhance enthusiasm, or build cohesion into an impetus to motivate. Often, buzzwords and canned phrases do the exact opposite, and failing to understand applicability, usefulness, and value is the problem of those insisting upon terminology, not the audience. It cannot be stressed enough, plastic words lead to mental terrorism, and terrorism always leads to tyranny!
Poerksen, U. (1995). Plastic words: The tyranny of modular language (J. Mason, & D. Cayley, Trans.). University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
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