What do you mean ‘it sucks’?

15 Nov 2017

electrolux sucks
electrolux sucks
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Our blogger, Mr Brian Saunders, suggests a few ways to ensure that you company does not...suck!

In our now predominantly mixed language working and social environments, small errors in communication (often the result of a lack of understanding of the shared language of English) have proven incredibly expensive to companies worldwide.

Take the classic story of Swedish vacuum maker Electrolux who famously highlighted their high-powered cleaner with the tagline ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.’ Surprisingly enough, the product never became popular in the United States, where the word ‘sucks’ had an entirely different meaning! Slang expressions are a notorious black hole for confusion.
 
But it’s not just mistakes like this, with obviously huge implications for companies, that damage companies. The small misunderstandings that team members leave company briefings with are equally damaging.

Here’s what happens….
 
Our Team Leader gives a great speech about productivity developments from E.N.T. and the new strategies offered by ‘intercommercial distribution matrices’. Everyone nods enthusiastically, applauds and then leaves the meeting, secretly wondering if they were the only person with absolutely no idea what the speech was about. During the coffee break that follows, some team-members nervously come clean on the fact that they didn’t really grasp what the speaker was saying, but thought it meant X and Y. Through a process from a gradual admittance of collective ignorance through to a shared and united agreement on what the speech was probably about, the team pulls together their own version of the message and that’s the version that now carries weight throughout the group. 
 
The likely impact of these kind of misunderstandings is incalculable! Elon Musk famously put a ban on all but the most important acronyms used at Space X. He rightly understood that many team members there didn’t really understand the jargon that had developed over a period of years in the company, but were too embarrassed to say so. The result: mistakes, delays and lost human potential. In this case, a small mistake literally could have gone a long way!
 
So, what about some practical steps that those of us who are leaders, trainers or speakers could take to avoid some of these difficulties?

  • Define new language carefully with the team. Make sure that just because you know the latest ‘buzz words and phrases’, you don’t assume others do too. If necessary, produce a checklist of important acronyms or technical language.
  • Conclude the meeting, training or briefing with clear instructions on how to move ahead and also a way to check up on what was said when the meeting is over. (This means putting notes together or recording the session so that it can be shared to the team if required.)
  • Encourage colleagues to ask questions. (As a young teacher I can remember rewarding the students in my classes for asking questions, regardless of whether they seemed sensible or not.) A culture that promotes questioning, promotes understanding. ‘The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask’.
  • Speakers and trainers who succeed with their audiences typically give practical, realistic examples of what they mean- as they speak. They don’t leave understanding to chance, but make it explicit. 

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