Jargon and gobbledygook, it sounds like a title for a Friday night BBC panel show hosted by David Mitchell, but I’m actually referring to what is more commonly known as corporate lingo or if you want to be straight-talking corporate bullsh*t. Just the other day I heard a classic.
‘The best way to boil a frog is slowly.’
Firstly, I’m sure many frogs would disagree with that as a factual statement. Surely if you were a doomed amphibian you’d want your passage to the other side to be quick; flash-frying would be more humane.
But on a semantic level what does it actually mean? When I asked the chap who used the phrase, he answered: ‘it means softly, softly, catchy monkey,’ skilfully replacing one animal cruelty-based proverb with another.
What it means in actual English is ‘for best results, take time’. For word nerds ‘softly, softly, catchy monkey’ originates from the boy scouts, presumably in the days when you could earn a badge for your simian trapping skills. I have no idea where the frog version comes from.
Other current corporate flim-flam favourites include ‘moon on a stick’, meaning unrealistic expectations and ‘jumping the shark’, meaning being behind a trend. This latter one originates from the TV industry where it is used to describe a series that has run its course and is floundering for ideas so desperately it devises outlandish storylines. It comes from the final series of Happy Days in which The Fonz enters a waterskiing competition and jumps over a shark.
Language and the way we use it has a huge bearing on how we are perceived. Lingo, acronyms and corporate bulls**t can create a detached audience. One of the most important aspects of leadership is engaging with your people. Another buzzword, usually accompanied by even more jargon; engagement metrics, critical factors, dialogue facilitation. To achieve these things you need to reframe the language you use.
Using humour, fun and laughter in an appropriate way can be a great way to connect with people, even Forbes recently wrote about why humour is a key to success at work.
So what does engagement mean in a commercial and leadership sense? Engagement means belief in company values. For leadership to engage employees it needs to ask very simple questions. Are they happy, do they like the company they work for and are we helping them do their job to the best of their ability?
You don’t need to dress it up any more than that and by doing so, ironically, you disengage people. Read more about how Laughology is doing this.