If there ever was a person who understood systematic abuse of language it would be George Orwell.
Orwell is the author of the phenomenal novel Animal farm. He created the character who said ‘some animals are more equal than others’. This is one of the most fascinating quotes I learned as a literature student.
Yet, Orwell was credited with the another quote with an interesting allegory:
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.”
In our clime I consider ‘cuttlefish spurting out ink’ to be the common clichés and phrases heard in the workplace. It is mostly unclear language used when a speaker/writer is being insincere or unwilling to disclose certain information.
I share below some cuttlefish language used in the workplace and how they reflect insincerity.
– “I’m sorry you feel that way.”: When the speaker actually means that he/she is not sorry, but they find it disappointing that you have a negative perspective of an incident.
– “Your call is important to us”: Said by an operator after a long hold on the phone.
– “I hate to give unsolicited advice.”: When in fact the advice was offered intentionally.
– “This is going to hurt me more than its going to hurt you.”: Often said by a Doctor to a patient.
– “You are my first priority. I won’t rest until I get it done”: Imagine these words being said by a Politician.
– “Anyone can be successful doing what I did.”: You might hear it said by a Motivational speaker while selling their product.
Insincere language shows up easily with the repetition of official responses and statements when we have no human connection with the receiver. They are hardly convincing. Examples of some of these overused official phrases are:
– Our employees are our strongest asset.
– We believe in a level playing field
– We follow the highest ethical standards
– We regret any inconvenience this might cause you
Some individuals exhibit insincerity outside the workplace when they adopt the use of office cuttlefish language in their informal interactions. I find it awkward that a person would use phrases like ‘as discussed’ and ‘duly confirmed’ when addressing their own sibling.
Would you not consider tuning off from an acquaintance who chats you with ‘kindly note’ when you message them using friendly emoji’s? This behaviour can impede closeness and trust in the relationship because the Communicator’s real intentions are unclear.
Insincerity goes deeper than words. It speaks to the identity of the person. It can be used as an indicator that a person cannot be trusted on a business transaction. It also demonstrates a person’s commitment to a venture.
A prospective partner may determine if an individual is invested enough to address a problem by the straightforwardness of their communication. Donors use sincerity as yardstick to measure grantee’s capacity to deliver on their promise.
Basically, we communicate who we are. To avoid being a cuttlefish communicator we need to be intentional with our words. It is important to ensure that we convey our personal values and professional ethics in the bid to be polite.
When you say “I’ll call you right back”, when you mean to dismiss the caller or defer conversation indefinitely, remember to leave a message for the caller after you have composed an appropriate and truthful response.
In workplaces where there is a growing culture of hypocrisy, pretense and disguise, workers confuse being professional or representing the corporate brand with cuttlefish communication.
For some corporate workers, giving politically correct information all the time is an emotionally intelligent way of avoiding or dealing with perceived conflict. This behavior is first a habit then it takes root in the individual’s personality until truth becomes alien to them.
An individual proficient in using unclear language may earn accolades temporarily or maybe even a promotion. The Cuttlefish Communicator becomes less of themselves and more of the job they do. This is harmful when such a person eventually leaves that job and begins to question their personal identity.
In my conclusion I’ll say that personal identity is not mutually exclusive to corporate identity when it comes to our language choices. In our daily interactions with co-workers, vendors, clients, partners and prospects, we find that dynamic communication skill is an asset for achieving personal success.
Through clear language, we can show sincerity and integrity which inspires longer lasting and profitable relationships.