Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The salesman's 'yeah': businesspeak scales new heights

Far too little attention has been paid to businesspeak, a language second to none in subtlety and indirection, leaving it with enough levels of meaning to make it the lasagne of international linguistics.

No doubt you all know, ‘this is urgent. We need action immediately’ which translates as ‘I’m calling a meeting for the middle of next week. No, damn it. The week after when George gets back from leave.’

You may be less familiar with ‘that’s not a suggestion we can take up at once, but don’t let’s lose sight of it, it’s a really good idea,’ which means ‘I can’t believe you came up with anything that dumb, but HR has told me I have to be encouraging towards the little people, so I’m letting you down gently.’

One of my personal favourite is, ‘I’ve glanced at the document but I haven’t had time to read it in detail,’ which means ‘I know you’ve sent me something but I suspect it’s more than two paragraphs long, so I can’t be bothered to plough through it. Why don’t you take up the first half of the meeting telling me what it contains, while I interrupt with irrelevant questions?’

However, as you’re certainly aware, it isn’t always the most complex creations of humanity that are the most striking. Sometimes it’s pure simplicity that wins the prize. That’s why I’m particularly pleased to be able to present to the world my most recent study of businesspeak, and one of its most phenomenal of structures. I’m sure you’ll agree it
s powerful precisely for its brevity.

I’ve come to call it ‘the salesman’s yeah’. Yes. A single word. And it’s definitely ‘yeah’, not ‘yes’. Here’s how it’s deployed.

‘Did you set up the meeting with Mr Howard?’ asks the worried executive.

‘Yeah,’ replies the salesman, and pauses just long enough to ensure that everyone has fully absorbed the fact that he’s given a positive response.

‘I spoke to his assistant last week,’ he goes on, ‘and she says she’ll make sure he gets my message just as soon as he’s back from his conference in Singapore.’

The master businessspeaker
Masterly. Confidence-inspiring.  Charming
Or then again we have:

‘Have they signed the agreement?’

‘Yeah.’ Pause. The pause is key. ‘Galactica from Legal thought a distributor agreement would be more suitable, so she’s drafting one.’

And a final example.

‘So will we get the order this month?’

‘Yeah.’ Pause. ‘There’s every chance they’ll give us the nod in the next fortnight, ready for the final meeting to authorise the order in six weeks.’

See how it works? If you or I had to communicate the message in the long sentence following the ‘yeah’, we’d probably be inclined to start with a ‘no’. But that’s because we’re naive speakers of that tediously transparent language, everyday English. The really proficient businesspeaker who has mastered the ‘salesman’s yeah’, knows how to give bad news a positive spin. Far better, his 
‘yeah’ makes you feel good, and you cling on to that feeling while he gives you the less satisfactory information that follows. So it's outstandingly effective: he manages to communicate a misleading message without telling a lie.


How can one avoid admiring such talented and ingenious use of words? It takes them out of the realm of the banal, ordinary communication of information in which most of us indulge. It takes us to new heights of communication and miscommunication, rarely seen outside the world of conservative politics.


Simon Wade said...

Yes it's all true having spent a life time working with. Sales guys they are a very strange bunch. The first skill is to be able to sell to your employer,not your customer that's a secondary skill. Otherwise all you have to do is imart a very positive spin on everything and make it completely clear that nothing is your fault or failing. Ist just your unfortunate situation to have abismal clients who Cant make a logical decision in favour of your abismal skills.

Leonard Beeson said...

Customer: "Will I get my refund?"
Salesman: "Yeah......, just fill this form, and this one, and this one, aaaaannnnnddd this one, and we're all set for that refund next fiscal period".

MalcDow said...

Yeah right!

David Beeson said...

Glad to see that there are plenty of others who've shared my experience of salesmen and they're neat use of words... Thanks for the comments