Friday, 16 November 2012

The words that exalt the private sector

It is a truth not so much universally acknowledged as monotonously repeated, that they order things better in the private sector.

It was a case forcefully put in the recent US elections, where many Romney supporters argued that a tried and tested private sector executive was just what was needed for the most powerful public sector post on earth. 

Not forcefully enough, as it happens, but that wasnt for want of trying.

Mitt teaching a less which, fortunately, not too many learned
Nothing supports a claim to competence better than evidence of clarity of thought, and nothing proves clarity of thought so much as precision in expression. It is therefore with the sense of fulfilling a public duty that I put before you today some linguistic gems that I’ve been collecting from senior private sector executives in recent months.

Marvel at this small selection of words and sayings:

Antidotal: ‘I only have antidotal evidence for this.’ Some day I hope to hear this said in connection with behaviour described as poisonous.

Harbour: ‘I don’t want to harbour the point.’ Presumably because to do so might lead to our being wrecked at the labour’s mouth.

Plassate: this is a useful word describing the process of calming someone, perhaps a client complaining about poor service. ‘We should do what we can to plassate him.’ Though not, of course, if we have to push the shop out too far.

Amiable: used of someone who has no objection to a course of action. ‘I told him our suggestions and he seemed perfectly amiable to them.’

Catharsis: occurs when an obstacle leads to a momentary halt in progress. ‘They were moving ahead quite quickly, but they seem to have hit a bit of a catharsis.’

It turns out that certain fears tend to justify themselves if you spend too much time worrying about them: they become, in effect, ‘self-proclaiming’.

Sometimes a message can be hopelessly distorted if it passes along a chain of too many people. If trainers train trainers who train users, what they present at the end of the line may bear little relationship to the starting point. This phenomenon, I’ve been assured, is known as ‘Chinese Walls’.

That appeals to me, because it’s a phrase often used by such organisations as the big Consultancies, to explain how they can work with competing companies without a conflict of interest. We might say, in the spirit of this post, hunting with the hare while running with the haddock. Call me a cynic, but I’ve always suspected that things can
t be kept that separate and there are Chinese whispers through the Chinese walls.

And finally, of course, we have the old chestnut: ‘I don’t like the message Peter put out because it inferred that we were doing something wrong.’ Just like this post might be taken to imply that certain managers couldn’t tell a bark from a bite.

Not all of senior businessmen mangle language like this, of course. Many are as limpid in speech as they’re far-sighted in vision. I wouldn’t want to tar them all with the same pencil: that would be like tossing out the baby with the ball court.

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