Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Have the respect to be direct in your communications

Hi, I’m back.

A friend predicted that I would become “time poor” during my first weeks in the new role at Mercer and he was (as he so often is) correct…hence my lack of posts.

Part of the issue is that I am a bit of an idea magpie, collecting, connecting and considering interesting insights and odd bits until I’ve come up with a tapestry that I think is ready to be unveiled to the world. People have told me they enjoy and value this approach and I’ll admit it’s my preferred way of synthesizing and opining about things.

Trouble is, it makes for fairly lengthy posts and it time to gather the threads and to weave my tapestries. And of late, on the subject of time, see above…

There is, however, a matter that I can be silent about no longer, hence this brief outburst that I deliver coupled with the promise of more considered work in the weeks to come.

Passivity and Politics

I have noticed a pattern in the language used by some people who facilitate workshops, in particular certain kinds of communication workshops. In a desire to offer no possible offence to anyone at all (fuelled, in my view, by a pronounced vein of political correctness) I’ve heard the most roundabout constructs being used in settings that are meant to foster authentic and direct communications about what people want and expect from one another.

Examples of this pernicious pattern of passive parlance include:

I am wanting to move on with this session.”
I am thinking that there’s another view to consider”
I am needing some more clarity around this issue.”
I am feeling uncomfortable with this situation.”

The passive voice can be useful in English usage, but I find here it is not. I think the motive for passive use in this way stems from the desire to be “nice” – that is, to be excessively indirect and offer no offence to anyone. This is, however, an action that a) contains the arrogant presupposition that you can predict how the person will react and b) the manipulative desire to control how he/she will react – neither of which are positive and authentic approaches to communication.

In my view it’s more authentic, honest, and frankly respectful to be direct and speak your mind plainly. Maybe the other person will be offended and get highly precious (gosh I love that word!) about your interaction. Guess what? That’s their prerogative, and now you’ve got something authentic to work with.

To close, I want to give credit to Rafe Spies of Sydney's Straight Media, who reminded me in a conversation last Friday evening of George Orwell’s 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, which is I think a terrific tract on defending plain usage from the twin threats of barbarism and jargonism (itself a bit of jargon I’ve invented, but nevermind). I refer in particular to Orwell's rule number four from that essay: Never use the passive where you can use the active.

I want to be clear about this: people create more than enough misunderstanding and confusion even when you use the active, direct voice…there’s no need to worsen matters by being indirect and passive in a misguided and manipulative desire to be “nice”.


1 comment:

Sakyakumara said...

I'm wondering if you might be particularly intending to be communicating to English amongst us? ;-)