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Euphemisms, Part II

I have written before about the distasteful penchant of business leaders to rely on euphemisms when delivering unpleasant news. It's a practice especially prevalent among companies announcing job reductions. Instead of saying that they're firing people, company spokespeople prefer buzz-wordy phrases, such as, "We're jettisoning surplus human capital and shifting the paradigm of our infrastructure." I've noticed in the latest wave of job-cut announcements, companies are now using similarly evasive language to explain the reasons behind their layoffs.

In defending his company's rationale for eliminating the jobs of 7,500 people, Allianz AG chief executive Michael Diekmann said the insurer had experienced a "structural shortfall" that prevented it from continuing to support "highly complex redundancies." Protesting Allianz employees are questioning the structural shortfall; after all, in 2005, Allianz recorded its highest net income ever.

Microsoft Corp. issued a statement explaining why it is cutting 148 sales positions. According to the company, the cuts will allow Microsoft to "better align a small subset of field and headquarters positions more closely with the needs of our enterprise customers and partners." Forgive me for being in the subset of those who don't know what an enterprise customer is, much less, how reducing salespeople better serves the needs of enterprise customers.

Symantec said it plans to reduce its investment in security appliances and focus attention on its network and gateway security business. In the process, the company will abolish eighty jobs. "This change in investment strategy will allow us to develop best-of-breed solutions that meet the complex needs of today's businesses." Best-of-breed? Those eighty people tossed out are part of the human breed, by the way. Whom did they keep--the pick of the litter?

When Sun Microsystems announced plans to cut up to 13 percent of its workforce, CEO Jonathan Schwartz had this to say: "We are reinventing our business model on a far simpler base, and focusing our energies on the automation, energy efficiency, and network innovation at the heart of our technology leadership." Do you want simpler? Do you want efficiency? Why don't you just say you're cutting 800 jobs to increase profits?

Even the Presbyterian Church, which recently disclosed that it is eliminating seventy-five employees at its Louisville headquarters, tried to put a positive spin on the act by saying the displaced workers are "looking for new ways to serve God." Good heavens!

Are organizations so ashamed of their business decisions that they need to use ambiguous language? Will announcing layoffs result in a lower stock price, or smaller contributions in the offering plate? Maybe, but one thing is certain: when leaders mask unpleasant messages in jargon, they squander their credibility.

Why do business leaders use when sharing bad news? Because experts tell us to hide our emotions, and jargon allows us to remove all trace of emotion from our messages. And it's easier to hide the emotional impact of participating in the displacement of hundreds of workers when you translate "laying off people" into "reinventing our business model." But when relaying information to employees, it is critical for leaders to communicate to their listeners on an emotional level. The lack of emotional communication is the primary reason jargon is so ineffective as a source of inspiration.

is easiest when you just say what you mean.
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