Are we communicating, or what? (part 1)

I speak much differently in the business world than I do in real life. 

In real life, I like to use little words and keep all concepts simple.  I wish I could do that in the business world. Frankly, I always prefer to use the word “total” than “aggregate,” (even though that’s a lousy example.)  Truth is, I believe that if there are two choices of words to use, I prefer the simpler one.

I find I communicate more effectively that way.

Unfortunately, as a business executive, it’s expected of me to be a bit more shall we say, high-minded. There must be some unwritten law, or maybe in an executive communication book somewhere, that states, “We need to speak at a level that’s different than the masses.” Maybe it’s a psychological thing — some concept saying that we must sound more important, or maybe just self-important. 

So on a daily basis, I have to deal with the made-up, pseudo-intelligent speak that we call modern day business jargon. It makes me a bit crazy, if you know what I mean. Hearing it means I have to translate a lot in my old-school direct marketing brain.

And when it comes to speaking the jargon, much like learning a new language, it sounds foreign on my tongue.

But I must speak the sacred language, for if I don’t I won’t be considered one of the few, but one of the many — a simpleton in a complex business (right!).

Even worse, the jargon keeps changing. For example, not so long ago, catalog analysis became benchmarking. Then it became metrics, and these days we call it analytics or KPIs, (Key Performance Indicators).

To me it’s just response, lifetime value analysis and simple stuff like sales per catalog mailed.

It Gets Better; Consider This …

Sometimes we use business speak to confuse. (OK, I really wanted to work the word “subterfuge” rather than confuse into this last sentence; this speaking simply stuff isn’t easy!)

One of my favorite forms of confusion is the “high-level” discussion!  Every time I hear someone say high level in a meeting, I know it’s probably going to be a line of bunk.  We live in a world of direct and catalog marketing where the details are everything.  A world where lists drive mailings, which drive mail plans which drive the top line.  

You can forget that top-line hooey; it’s below the line where our best business discussions need to take place.

Said another way, you can’t grow the top line in a multichannel business; it’s impossible — well, almost. You can have a high-level discussion about top-line growth while your circulation planners are snickering in the corner.

Maybe people who have high-level discussions forget all that. Or maybe they just don’t want to understand the details. Could they be the people who changed the saying from “God is in the details” to “the devil is in the details?”

Any time someone wants to get into a high-level discussion with me, I instantly become wary. You know, that same kind of reaction — a raising of the hairs on the back of my neck — that I get any time someone tells me to think outside the box. (Note to readers: Thinking outside the catalog marketing box can have deadly consequences. There’s a reason for the “inside the box” rules we have in this business.)

The joke is, we do all of this business communication to better communicate our ideas and thoughts to each other. That is, until the “four crappy communicators” arrive and get in the way.

In my next column, I’ll help decipher some of the most common (and possibly ridiculous) business terms. Then, I’ll offer a foolproof method for communicating more effectively (all about the four crappy communicators). Don’t miss this column; it will make your career go much smoother.

In the meantime, use the link below to serve up some of your more silly business speak jargon or e-mail me at my address below.  (I know you have your favorite ridiculous jargon, c’mon post it here)  Speak to you in my next entry.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing, a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at or you can post a comment here or e-mail him at

One thought on “Are we communicating, or what? (part 1)

  1. Jennifer Carlson says:


    This one is from a friend who works at a certain retail’s corporate HQ in Minneapolis.

    They call PowerPoint presentations “decks.” They’ve got a related term, for sending out the “deck” in advance of a meeting, but I can’t recall the exact phrase (it’s something like “stacking the deck”).

    Jennifer in Milwaukee

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