I have just finished listening to William Zinsser reading his book On Writing Well. It is entertaining and wonderfully clear on the subject of non-fiction writing and how to do it better. I quoted from it yesterday on Twitter – “People in authority are prisoners of the idea that a simple style reflects a simple mind”. This reminds me of a story I tell in my own book about an experience of the temptations of management speak:
I can remember in my first managerial job, as a line manager of fifty staff, being terrified at the prospect of “being responsible” for all of these people. In fact that is a telling phrase in itself – how could I be seen as responsible for fifty grown ups, many of whom knew more than me about the business we were in? Initially I let the fear get to me and I started wearing a tie and talking funny. I retreated into management speak to distance myself from those I was “responsible for” and wore my uniform like armour. When faced with dealing with redundancies and having to talk to someone old enough to be my father who broke down in tears in front of me, the temptation was to recoil, to run away and hide behind my tie and my language. Thankfully I managed to resist that temptation and to stay there, stay part of the conversation, and continue to treat him as a fellow human being rather than just a member of staff. Thankfully I realised what was happening to me and I stepped back from the brink. Many, if not most, don’t and descend that slippery slope into pompous management speak.
I believe it is facing this discomfort that many people in business find challenging about social media. Its plain and direct style calls on them to open up in a way that makes them feel exposed and vulnerable. This is not easy.