It seems the iron fist of Alpha Talk has once again grabbed me by the collar and given me no choice but to speak up against what appears to be a resurgence of Beta Talk.
It’s been some time since I’ve written about the use (or misuse) of our language, so I beg your indulgence with my rant.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, my definition of Beta Talk is using words in conversation that soften the impact of what’s really being said, sometimes to the point of entirely obscuring the intended message. Some people view Alpha Talk as too direct or harsh, so they engage in Beta Talk to soften the approach.
The other day, I saw a help-wanted ad looking for people interested in a career in “conversational marketing.” I had to applaud the person responsible for this stroke of brilliance, likely the result of the company’s failed attempts to recruit “telemarketers.”
Can’t you just picture the company’s executive team brain-storming new titles for jobs involving telemarketing? I don’t care how much creativity or lipstick it took to come up with “conversational marketing.” In my opinion, it’s still telemarketing.
Maybe this is the same team who invented the term “inventory leakage.” Really! The inventory is slowly filtering out the back door all by itself? If that’s the case, your inventory must be a lot smarter than my inventory. I’m not sure mine knows how to walk, much less leak.
Perhaps these folks came from the aviation industry. On my last trip through the airport I noticed a guy walking around in a red vest that announced his position as a “Mobility Assistant.” He must have been promoted from his previous job as a porter.
Keep it honest
Beta Talk in business is nothing new.
Years ago, the Ford Motor Company issued a notice after Firestone tires blew out on their Explorer SUV’s, referring to it as a “customer notification enhancement action.” Thirty seven letters were used to say what could have been said in six: Recall.
Not long ago, one of my son’s friends told me about a summer job he had secured at a local golf course. He was thrilled with his new position as a “turf maintenance engineer.” I told him the job sounded impressive and asked him what kind of work he’d be doing. He confidently told me he would be re-calibrating ground cover growth, grooming hazards and managing horticultural anomalies… all of this after arriving at work at a painfully early hour in the morning.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him we used to call these guys “groundskeepers” and they used to get paid similar wages to mow lawns, rake sand traps and pull weeds. I figured he’d learn this soon enough on his own.
Today, some auto manufacturers don’t want to mention even the possibility of their cars “breaking down.” That might be too alarming. Instead they refer to this as a “mechanical disablement”, which could lead to “trip interruption.” I can only hope if my trip is ever interrupted because of a mechanical disablement there’s an “internal combustion resuscitation specialist” available to get me back on my way.
Finally, when did it become so unfashionable to tell people you work in sales? Now everyone wants to say they’re in “business development” or “client relations.” I’m fine with either of these terms as long as somebody’s actually selling something because that, along with good old Alpha Talk, is how successful businesses sustain their success.
There’s an epidemic of Beta Talk in business and I think it’s hurting rather than helping. Think about it: Would you rather receive the difficult message of being fired head-on or have it blurred by being told “we’re freeing up your future” or hearing terms like “out placement” or “alternate locations of employment?”
While it’s fun to make light of the subject of Beta Talk, those on the receiving end deserve the honesty that Alpha Talk often provides.
Chuck Violand understands the unique challenges of small businesses, having owned a commercial cleaning and water damage mitigation company for 26 years. He founded Violand Management Associates (VMA) in 1988 as a consulting, teaching and training resource for owners of small businesses. To learn more about VMA's services and programs, visit www.Violand.com or call (330) 966-0700.