The brand association with the phrase ‘plain speaking’ is not great.  It is linked to being brutally direct, without thought or care for how the audience might feel in response to it.  However, the real intent behind such a communication strategy is an entirely positive one, and I’ve been talking with my clients this month about the real power (and explanation) of what ‘plain speaking’ actually means.

But first, a true story and direct quote.  Someone has said the following to me in the past month: “Sarah, what we really need is a strategic staircase”.

I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about and enquiring further, I discovered that what they actually meant was… a business plan.  My reaction was to suppress hearty laughter and swiftly move to explore the power of speaking plainly.

Great leaders are clear communicators and use memorable, compelling language.  It is engaging and memorable because it is clear, simple and easy to understand.  That’s the power of plain speaking.

Unnecessarily elaborate, pretentious, complicated phrases and words are absolutely not impactful.  Whilst I understand the fundamental human condition to fit in, be impressive and feel like we belong, this is not the way to do it.  Please, let’s stop this awful ‘management speak’, which we hear and then start to repeat because we labour under the belief that it makes us sound intelligent.

It does not.

We work across borders, cultures and time zones, as well as working at distance in this challenging remote environment.  We are working in the middle of a global health pandemic, with kids at home being home schooled in some cases, we’re working harder, for longer and with greater intensity.  So, why on earth would we want to make it even more complicated for ourselves through the language we use?

And whilst we’re at it, please can we remove the following linguistic bad habits:

‘Rubbish words’ – any word or phrase that is overused, fills our sentences with no purpose and said repeatedly must go. 

‘Weasel words’ – ‘yes…but’ (means ‘no’), ‘try’ (but won’t succeed just to let you know) and ‘we’ll see’ (which means ‘no’) need to be removed.

‘Reductive language’ – ‘small point’, ‘quick question’, ‘tiny observation’ are all examples of how we can diminish and downplay our contribution.  It sounds apologetic, submissive and weak.  We have a point, a question or an observation.  That’s it.

Speaking plainly, we may use one or more languages in our business life, so make it work powerfully and memorably for – not against – you.  Be curious about your bad habits, take them in turn and work to remove them.  It takes 21 days to build a new habit.  Slow down the pace at which we speak and pause…both of which help enormously with our confidence to speak plainly, memorably and with impact.

Enough is enough.  And it needs to stop.

Until next time….

Sarah Brummitt FFIPI AICI CIP