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Talk Normal: Stop the Noise

September 11, 2009



Recently I set up a blog called Talk Normal. Setting up a blog isn’t news – 70 million other bloggers beat me to it. But as a journalist I’m rash enough to think there’s something that needs to be said: make the bad noises stop.


I find that when I’m on the phone to someone, reading a corporate blog, even listening to news programmes on the radio, I am often thinking to myself: what on earth are you talking about? I’m genuinely confused. This is often how my interviews go:


Me: What does your company do?

Them: We’re helping to actualise an ecosystem of solutions for this marketplace.


Me: Could you explain that more clearly?

Them: The solutions in this marketplace require actualisation. That mandates an ecosystem of solution providers. We are cooperating in that effort.


Me: Come again?

Them (exasperated): Solutionise marketplacisation ecosystematically! Do you have much experience in this industry?


Long ago the only way to have your opinion published or broadcast was to work your way through a system of editors and copy checkers whose job was to be very strict on abusers of language. People weren’t allowed to write things without completing an apprenticeship which involved being shouted at, learning shorthand and joining a union; memos were for bosses; meetings were for being told what to do or for going on strike. I don’t wish those days back (though freelance rates were better then), but there’s a problem with letting everyone have a go at communicating: everyone does.


This expansion in ways to communicate has not been matched by an improvement in how we do it. (Or, indeed, serious consideration of whether we should bother to do it in the first place. Look at the size of your inbox. How much of that stuff helps you do your job?)  Today office work doesn’t just mean doing things: it means making presentations before and after you do them and calling meetings so everyone else can express an opinion too.


Then there are the status updates, the conference calls, the email reports, the stakeholder engagement, the corporate blogs, the intranet news, the all-office memos and the customer emails. That’s before you ever speak to the press about your achievement – which is only possible if you still had time to achieve it after all that communicating.


The pressure to sound “professional” while you do all talking and writing – and a scandalous lack of training in how to do it – mean we’re increasingly finding one way to speak at the office and another way at home. Unless, that is, you have successfully integrated your domains: even now you are perhaps diarising a romantic meal solution at EOP with your preferred partner.


Not everyone can be a gifted communicator; but that’s no reason why we should adopt the weird office-speak that chucks “going forward” and “facilitate” into conversations because other people are doing it too.


If you make two conference calls per week for the next 10 years, and they last one hour each, that’s two waking months of your life that you will never have back. Two months spent mutedly cursing the triangular grey phone while you listen to three people in Reading talk about synergy. You’re only on the planet for 1000 months, so look at it this way: my blog might be making fun of the way you talk in the office, but I’m giving you your life back.#


About Tim Phillips

Tim Phillips has been a freelance journalist since 1990, writing about business, technology, social change and innovation. He has written for the Wall Street Journal Europe, The International Herald Tribune, The Times and Sunday Times, The Observer, The Telegraph, The Independent and The Daily Express among others. For two years he was a technology and internet columnist for the Guardian. The business magazines he has written regularly for include Director, Management Today and Business 2.0. He is a frequent guest on BBC television and radio and Sky News and a regular conference speaker.


Tim is also the author of Scoring Points: How Tesco is Winning Customer Loyalty (2004); Knockoff: the Deadly Trade in Counterfeit Goods (2006) and Not One of Us: the Trial the Changed Policing in Britain for Ever (2007). Not One of Us was Radio 4 Book of the Week and is currently being made into a television drama. Among others, he has penned guides to Machiavelli and Bertrand Russell.

Tim is currently writing Fit To Bust, an anthology of business failures, which is becoming a bigger book every day.




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