The other day, I received an email inviting me to practice “intellection” with a community of like-minded colleagues.
Another cult meeting, I groaned, cursor hovering over “Delete.” I’m always being invited to cult meetings because I look like the kind of girl who would be easily kidnapped (polite, bland, blonde).
Imagine my surprise when intellection turned out not to be a class at Hogwarts but a personality “theme” in StrengthsFinder, the business world’s answer to horoscopes (I’m a Cancer, Intellection rising.) Intellection (translation: intellect) is one of a handful of frankenwords I’ve encountered in corporate culture, which converts nouns to verbs and verbs to nouns with the alarming invention — if not artistry — of a poet.
Having an idea doesn’t cut it anymore — we have to “engage in ideation.” Ditto the particularly spine-chilling “decisioning.”
My beef isn’t with jargon in general — every field has its technical shorthand, meant to ease communication among parties in-the-know. But much of our tepid corporatespeak seems designed to obscure meaning rather than clarify it.
Nowhere is clear communication more abused than on the infernal plane of project management, where linguistic vagaries sprint lean and agile out of the weeds. Creating products and working in teams is a thing of the past. Move over, gramps! Now, we’re managing deliverables, comparing core competencies, moving the needle and exceeding our bandwidths.
Integration? It’s vertical.
If these sound like the unenlightened complaints of someone who hasn’t shifted paradigms today, let me “disaggregate it down to the granular level”: I have two English degrees and still feel, at times, like I don’t speak the language.
The goal of corporate communication, it often seems, is to strip words of their thorny, inconvenient connotations until we’re left with something innocuous but ugly, like a benign tumor.To my ear, discourse innoventions often commit greater offenses than those they seek to avoid. Nothing seems more sinister to me than the inane practice of “leveraging,” which infuses simple sentences with a Machiavellian glee.
We’re not using our resources, we’re leveraging them. We’re not communicating with clients, we’re leveraging client interactions. I admit this isn’t endemic to the business world. Academics and artists are guilty of the same crimes. In the humanities, we’re too busy exploring relational aesthetics and antagonizing hegemony to contemplate the value-add.
Bloated rhetoric helps us mask thin ideas. But think of the time we’d save agonizing over ambiguous workplace communication, if, instead of asking our employees to “circle back around” with “established best practices,” we could say, “Come back when you have a good idea, Steve.”
This isn’t practical. Steve would complain about the toxic work environment. We’ve become so inured to neutered phrasing that direct communication feels like a bludgeoning.
I fear inflated discourse is here to stay. In a world increasingly steered by customer reviews and weaponized political correctness, it takes courage to speak plainly. When we do so, people might understand us and then respond in a way we don’t like.
Equivocating is easy. But putting ourselves out there, saying what we mean, allowing others to criticize our ideas, or worse, take offense? That’s a big ask.
Liz Cook lives in Kansas City, where she is a freelance writer and economic research editor. Reach her at email@example.com.