Buzzwords and Canned Phrases – More Tyranny From Plastic Language

Stretched WordsPlasticized 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.Non Sequitur - Plasticity of Language

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)3-direectional-balance

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:

        1. That’s not my problem. ‘I recommend you speak to_____’
        2. But we’ve always done it that way. That’s a different approach, can you tell me why it’s better?’
        3. There’s nothing I can do. I’m a bit stuck, can you help me find other options?’
        4. This will only take a minute. ‘Let me get back to you on a timeframe.’
        5. That makes no sense.I’m not sure about that one – can you give me some more details on your thinking behind it?’
        6. You’re wrong. ‘I disagree and here’s why ______ what do you think?’
        7. I’m sorry, but…. I’m sorry about that… next time I will _____’
        8. I just assumed that. ‘Could you clarify what your expectations are for me?’
        9. I did my best. ‘What could I do better next time?’.
        10. You should have... ‘It didn’t’ work – here’s what I recommend next time…’
        11. I may be wrong, but... ‘Here’s an idea…’
        12. 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:

        1. Apologize. Be sincere for any upset or confusion you might have caused
        2. State what you didn’t mean. Admit your error, explain what you did not intend to do or say.
        3. 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.

ApplicabilityDetective 3

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.

UsefulnessLook

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.

ValueAndragogy - The Puzzle

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.

Knowledge Check!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!

Reference

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
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE: “Constructive Criticism” – Killing The Lie!

Bird of PreyPoerksen (2010) provided sage counsel regarding how language plasticity leads to tyranny. Unfortunately, when discussing criticism, the tyranny of “constructive criticism” is displayed, and it is time for this lie to end, permanently!  Let me state, for the record and unequivocally, criticism never constructs positive behaviors!  Criticism doesn’t change simply because an adjective attempts to make criticism less harmful.

Criticism

Criticism defined, provides key insight from the common definition, “The expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.”  Disapproving based upon perception and expressed through words, looks, actions, and behaviors; this is criticism, and the best people in the world to criticize are the British.  IIf I call the British extremely critical and claim that is a compliment to the residents of the British Isles, those in Scotland and Ireland will understand, and no adjective in the world can make this criticism “constructive.”  As a point of reference, I draw this conclusion about the British from history, but knowing that does not make the criticism less accurate or less painful. On the contrary, I think the British have come a long way in changing their critical behaviors, actions, and manners and applauding them for their growth.

NO FearThe remaining definitions in the term criticism expand nicely upon the point that criticism and being critical can never be “constructive.”  “The analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of work.”  “A person who expresses an unfavorable opinion of something.”  The etymology of critic, which is the root of criticism, comes to us from Latin criticus, from Greek Kritikos, from kritēs ‘a judge’, from krinein ‘judge, decide.’  Never forget criticism, or the act of being critical originates from personal perception, a choice to be judgmental and critical.  The intent is to pass judgment upon something, someone, or someplace with the intent to cause personal harm or sway the opinions of others.

Constructive

Being constructive is “serving a useful purpose, or tending to build up.”  As noted above, criticism cannot be constructive because the adjective “constructive” is the polar opposite of criticism, which tends to tear down, demean, and depress.  Yet, when business leaders begin to write annual reviews, they are told to constructively criticize their employees, to sandwich criticism between praise to make the criticism less painful, and to construct comments in a manner that showcases strengths while not dwelling on the criticism.  Why; because this is the “scientifically approved” method for leadership, provide “constructive criticism.”  Except, criticism is a personal opinion and can never construct anything!

Why are we discussing criticism?Why

09 June 2021, in my company email box, I received an email, considered a “Thought of the Day,” from no less an auspicious source as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Department (DEI).  If anyone knew the damage of tyrannical language, I would think those in DEI would have a clue.  Yet, by their email, it is clear that DEI continues to drink the Kool-Aid and act the tyrant where language is concerned.  The email attempts to define destructive criticism and constructive criticism and then provides steps for distinguishing between the two forms of criticism.  Completely forgetting that criticism can never be constructive and will always be destructive.  From the email, we find these two fallacious concepts:

      • Destructive criticism: is undermining and can cause harm. There is no upside or way to positively spin what is said/written because the critic does not have your best interest at heart. It is destructive criticism that gives people fear of criticism in general.
      • Constructive criticism: is designed to be helpful and is based on valid facts/observations. It’s meant to help you grow and become stronger. It’s not always positive, but it can help you to see things in a new light. The critic almost always gives it based on their experience and genuinely wants to help out.Anton Ego 4

Using the definitions provided, can you see the tyranny?  Are the problems with plasticizing criticism behind the adjective “constructive” evident?  Do you understand the term plastic language and how plasticizing a word can destroy a person? Finally, ask yourself, does the professional critic write to “help the subject” of the criticism out, or do they criticize for another purpose entirely?

undefined1960, Doris Day’s movie, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” has a character who moves from being a professor of acting at a college to being a theater critic.  The movie is a comedy and delightfully shows the problems with criticism.  Better, the film underscores how criticizing never leads to constructing a person, a reputation, or an industry.  A more recent example of the problems with criticism can be found in the Disney/Pixar animated movie “Ratatouille.”  Anton Ego is the critic of restaurants, and his name strikes fear and dread into the hearts of the cooks and chefs in a restaurant.  Anton Ego is a tyrant who employs criticism as a tool for his own ends.  The final criticism of Chef Gusteau’s Restaurant near the end of the movie is a stunning example of how criticism can never be constructive!

Bait & SwitchFrom the DEI email, we find something very interesting in the Constructive vs. Destructive questions; the lack of the term “criticism” in the constructive criticism questions. Instead, criticism has been subtly changed to “feedback” in every place the term criticism should reside. So, for example, the first item under constructive is stated, “Feedback and advice from others are essential for growth and success.  Look at criticism as a learning opportunity.”  Better still, the third item in the constructive list states, “Detach yourself from criticism.”

Your ability to understand and refuse to play word games promotes operational trust in an organization, brings stability to teams, and establishes you as a person willing to learn.  Learning thwarts tyranny, and the tyrant has to give ground.  Never lose the moral high ground!

Knowledge Check!Fighting tyrannical modular language, or the plastic word games people play to control an audience, I suggest the following:

        1. Question terms used—demand logical answers.
        2. Know words and definitions; if unsure, ask SIRI, look the terms up in multiple dictionaries, but don’t rely upon one source for an explanation.
        3. When in doubt, practice #2, then #1 until you are less confused. I have found those working to plasticize words cannot stand scrutiny.
        4. Sunshine disinfectant works when tyranny is found; put the tyrant in the sunshine and watch them emulate a vampire in the sunshine!

Freedom requires a willing mind and a courageous heart; you are never alone when you take a stand against tyranny. So stand and watch the tyranny begin to fall like a rock slide.  Be the tiny rock that starts something big!

Reference

Poerksen, U. (2010). Plastic words: The tyranny of a modular language. Penn State Press.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.