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Business language: the thin edge between useful and redundant

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Language Imagine, for a second, how the corporate world would be like, if the term “manager” was defined in English, as the person who controls an institution or department, and in Portuguese, as the person who drives a taxi. This would translate into companies facing obstacles when working with people and organizations across nations. Fortunately, this is not the case for today’s business language.

English corporate language is the lingua franca of all business-related activities, it is a common ground for managers, Human Resources staff, CEOs and other administrative personnel, a language which remains the same across countries and various companies. Its great power lies in its standardized concepts.

Because the terminology remains the same in all languages, English corporate vocabulary becomes extremely useful to multi-national, multi-cultural companies, as employees in various nations are able to efficiently communicate between themselves by using the same terms which convey the same meaning.

The following table shows just a fraction of the most used corporate language terms:

Corporate language terminology
  • brand
  • busy
  • challenge
  • content
  • deadline
  • deal
  • feedback
  • to focus
  • front desk
  • job
  • lunch
   
  • politically correct
  • sample
  • skill
  • staff
  • target
  • task
  • (in) top shape
  • training
  • trend
  • trigger
  • (it’s a) must
 

However, there is a downside to using corporate language, and this is its over-usage.  Corporate language abuse creates understanding difficulties and, ultimately, leads to clichés. Simply put, speaking in clichés means wrapping a simple message in a complicated set of words.

The dangers of abusing corporate language arise only when such messages are transmitted to the wrong group of people. For instance, when managers talk to each other, there shouldn’t be any problem, because they speak within their specific domain.

On the other side, if a company presents its products or services by overusing specific business terminology, the public will, most probably, turn its back on that product. A company’s products or services presentation must reflect their image conveyed in a message that is meaningful for the public. People don’t make purchases after reading boring brochures written in a complicated manner. Therefore, a company must always keep in mind its target public, to whom the text is communicated, and then adapt its messages appropriately.

Moreover, evidence that corporate language has come to be over-used can be found in people who have no connection to the domain whatsoever but they use, nonetheless, business specific terms. A good example is seen during interviews when, more than often, an interviewee presents himself/herself by using pre-fabricated expressions with the purpose of being perceived as a professional person, appropriate for the job.

However, the result may often be ridiculous. A common sample of this happens when answering to the “What is your biggest flaw?” question. In many cases, the response is “My biggest flaw is that I’m a perfectionist.” This is a true example of how people use predictable text and how inappropriate the result is, as being a perfectionist is far from being a character flaw.

When talking about language in the organizational context, the problem with many organizations today is that they invest a considerable amount of time and resources into developing an attractive design for their websites, advertisements and branding, but little importance is given to creative writing.

Among some of the benefits of adequate communication skills, there are: increased audience which leads to a higher number of sales, increased public confidence in the company, enhanced branding and a clearer, friendlier organization image on market.

Google Inc., for example, excels when it comes to communicating with its public. Their search engine website stands for a friendly company that knows how to incorporate humor. The “I’m feeling lucky” button is both a subtle and an amusing manner to enhance their product.

Good communication skills are, therefore, closely related to finding the most appropriate words for the intended message and not creating complicated discourses with a rigid structure. George Orwell once said, in his “Politics and the English Language” article, that “prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a pre-fabricated hen-house.”

In a company, communication style and methods are usually cascaded from CEOs to departmental managers, and then down to employees. Thus, specific terminology is spread throughout the entire organization, and if a CEO makes incorrect use of corporate terms, then employees might end making the same mistakes. For this reason, the impact of language and, particularly, of good use of language, should never be neglected.

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