Jargon, Motivation, and Trading

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Business writer Suzanne Lucas discusses a result from a Verizon business survey that you may find surprising: There is such a thing as corporate jargon that most people like.

Curious as to why, Lucas considers the five most-liked phrases and the five least-liked phrases with an eye on what they imply and with the goal of understanding what makes some phrases liked and others disliked.

Speaking of the best-liked five, Lucas concludes in part:

These phrases focus on teamwork and positive plans. Getting the big picture says "I'm not just going to focus on my small area, but I want to understand how we work together as a team." Understanding what others do and how everything fits together makes a team function better.

All hands on deck, and bring to the table focus on inclusiveness. Everyone has something they can bring to the table, and getting everyone involved in a project is, again, very team focused.

The other two aren't quite so team-oriented, but they do show enthusiasm and creativity. After all, one of the worst phrases is, "this is how we've always done it." Going out of the box means you're willing to look at other possibilities. Go all-in shows commitment to an idea or plan.

They are all positive things that focus on getting work done!
I think Lucas pretty well nails this, and I mostly agree with her analysis of the five least-liked phrases.

But why? And how can I better apply what she has taught me? Sure. I'm on board with, "Do[ing] what [I] can to fix it up and find a positive solution," the next time something jargony makes me cringe, but what does that really mean?

Why do I cringe? What aspect of my communication can I improve? Do I always do this, and if not, why and when wouldn't I?

I think two ideas I learned from Ayn Rand are key to making this a richer lesson. The first is what Rand called the trader principle:
Image by Josh Calabrese, via Unsplash, license.
There is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.

The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice.

A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved. He does not treat men as masters or slaves, but as independent equals. He deals with men by means of a free, voluntary, unforced, uncoerced exchange -- an exchange which benefits both parties by their own independent judgment. A trader does not expect to be paid for his defaults, only for his achievements. He does not switch to others the burden of his failures, and he does not mortgage his life into bondage to the failures of others. [italics in original, bold added]
I think this clarifies at least three aspects of what Lucas discussed: why (1) teamwork-oriented phrases and (2) those that affirm the value of individual effort work so well for most of us; and (3) why commitment to a plan sounds good. My effort won't be wasted, nor will I be pulling someone else's weight if a plan is good. (Often, but not always, commitment to a plan is evidence that it is a good one.) We all win by doing what we each do best to reach a clear objective in a clear way.

To reinforce this and help understand the more cringe-worthy phrases, let's consider motivation by love vs. by fear:
You seek escape from pain. We seek the achievement of happiness. You exist for the sake of avoiding punishment. We exist for the sake of earning rewards. Threats will not make us function; fear is not our incentive...[bold added]
Something I noticed early on in my first job out of college was that the bad bosses frequently tried to use "motivation" by fear. I have also noticed that bad planning can result in people having "not looking bad" as their substitute for a positive goal.

The bottom five catchphrases all reek of poor planning, being singled out for an extra burden, and someone not wanting to admit those things: Hearing them makes me feel not like I'm about to make a trade, but like I am about to be taken advantage of. It's easy to see the love in a shared goal. But what about the fear? That comes in when we consider that, often, such phrases come from a boss or coworker or subordinate (See Note.) not holding up his end of the bargain and hoping to be bailed out, and the real possibility that you will end up doing more than your fair share in the case of "success" or looking bad in the case of failure.

Short-term, one may well decide that helping cover for bad management or an incompetent coworker may be in one's employment or career interests, but long-term, that is demoralizing.

The directness and taking-of-initiative that Lucas advises is thus a way to minimize such short-term pain by getting to the bottom of whatever the jargon is hiding -- and a way to improve one's job and career over the longer haul by fostering a culture of clear communication and mutually-beneficial teamwork.

-- CAV

Note: That was me, in that first job out of college, telling my boss about a problem without also offering my first stab at solving it or trying to solve it first, myself. I didn't use jargon, but I can see this happening both ways in the chain of command.

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