Aug 4, 2010

A truth of inconvenience

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that

Talking to people in professional contexts, particularly in customer service, often makes you feel like you are Dave, trying to reason with a cold non-human (eventually, a bad idea). Neither do these people possess a super-brain like HAL 9000, nor (and this is worse) can they be bypassed or turned off. The idea of taking an axe to them to check for frontal lobe absence becomes more appealing by the minute.

Author Dan Pink writes about the use of 'professionalese' in this Telegraph article, calling it "a renter’s language". Talking about sentences like We apologise for any inconvenience, he says:

It doesn’t expect to be around for very long and has no stake in the long-term prospects of the neighbourhood.

Pink argues that people and businesses need not think of personal language as being weak and unsuitable in the arena of carrying out business. That people should try being more open and honest, and this is more likely to get customers to view you as being trustworthy and human.

I know this sounds right, but I really doubt this will happen on a sufficiently large scale. Working in a large company and living in a country famed for its bureaucratic attitudes, I encounter insensitive, uncaring, and non-human behaviour on a regular basis. The renter-owner comparison perfectly captures the problem. But I also blame such behaviour on individual laziness, the ability of an existing system to warp the minds of the average person working in it, and an inability to think independently. Look at workplace-verbiage such as "please reach out to me" or the infamous "touch base" (can I reach out to you to touch base?) rather than a simpler, more commonplace "please let me know"/"please contact me". Is this verbal camouflage? Do people learn to talk this way so as to meld into the ecosystem and not stick out too much?

Or, as I often suspect, they are just being idiots?

(from the archives: Billshot Bungle)


Unknown said...

hehe,I live with 'Can we take a step back to problem-solve this! Please reach out to an expert' :) I suspect, some people are beginning to think these are real ways, to talk

Unknown said...

Yikes! I agree - people say these things so naturally that I think their brains have turned to mush - save the young, I say.