The sales manager yelled at his assembled sales team to rip his face off. His team looked at him blankly.
A co-worker of mine was sharing this story with me from an earlier company he worked for, and it reminded me of something that I sense more and more in our business communication with one another.
But back to the face.
The setting was a sales training session, and the sales manager was training the team on how to properly position their product during a sales call. According to the storyteller, the sales manager in question was a former college football player – “something he mentioned about ten times during the first day” – and used a number of expressions that were common in his football career, most notably the metaphorical ripping off of the face.
Evidently the sales manager wanted his team to be so direct and to the point that his face would, presumably, be ripped off. What the metaphor lacked in clarity it made up for in dramatic imagery.
Would we say that this sales manager was communicating clearly with his team?
I have noticed over the past several years that our business communication has become so steeped in metaphor, analogy, idiom and wild illustration that our message is becoming less clear, not more. And I am part of the problem.
The typical metaphor is supposed to make a complex idea more understandable, but after hearing so many convoluted metaphors I’m convinced they frequently do the opposite. We need to be vigilant in the face of too much metaphorical lingo because metaphors are often….
- Lazy. Just like bad language, the metaphor can often be the refuge of the lazy. It’s easier to say “we need to move the chains” than it is to identify what needs to be done to progress toward a visible objective.
- Exclusionary. Speaking of “we need to move the chains”, that phrase only makes sense if you are an (American) football fan, where chain movement signifies progress down the field of play. Notice also in that previous sentence I put “American” in parentheses. That’s because in a global economy your coworkers and customers will increasingly associate the word “football” with a game primarily played with feet. Also, as shocking as it might seem to the NFL and ESPN, not every American even watches (American) football on the weekends and so will have no real insight why moving the chains might be a good thing. (Disclaimer: I use this term at work. Physician, heal thyself.)
- Repetitive. Many people don’t use too many metaphors in their speech. Instead, they have a couple standbys that they employ with merciless regularity, thus pummeling their listeners into submission rather than focusing them on the core message.
- Martial. Many common business metaphors are military in nature, and equate business to war. Whether it’s unleashing a “Blitzkrieg” of PR or sending in “the ground troops” (sales), many common metaphors overinflated the danger and the stakes involved. I’ve been in business for a long time, and I’ve also been to war, and I can safely say that there’s a difference. (Disclaimer: I do this also).
My challenge for you: Look for examples of this form of lazy speech creeping into the way you communicate. In those situations, stop and force yourself to be specific. If you struggle, then perhaps you haven’t thought it through enough.
Think – then communicate clearly. I’ll do the same. Good luck!