Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Need for Plain English

Plain English. Yes. What is the purpose of communication?

It is for the other person to understand what you want to say. It is common sense and common wisdom. If you have something important to say, say it in words that everybody can understand.
This is a really important part of modern teamwork in the commercial world where decisions count. The use of Plain English rather than confusing jargon allows every member of the team to understand all of the issues involved and to integrate knowledge from all of the experts that are a part of the team or who advise that team. Then the team can come to the best, most balanced decision that takes into account all of the experts’ perspectives and knowledge.

Plain English integrates knowledge for the sake of the global context. Jargon fragments knowledge and prevents a clear picture form being formed. It creates conflicts between individual subjects in which they compete to feather their own nest at the cost of everybody else. The effect of jargon is that it disempowers outsiders from making a viable input leaving only the experts with a valid opinion and all of the power.
Industry has learned costly decisions from the bad old days. The use of Plain English is objective evidence that translates to the reality of commercial success. The team makes the best balanced decision.
The IT expert wants new toys with IzQ 31n4d hyperchips with RAN 72.943 technology on a Hoopo Poopoo X motherboard. The specifications are blinding. It will allow alta-net mega communications with the HK 4321 oncoboard sockets in a seamless infra-gold virtual interface....

I’m sure it is all true. We all nod our heads knowingly to hide the fact that we have absolutely no idea what any of this means. Yes, yes, yes. We all agree and soon we all have new fluorescent green plastic boxes on our desks with a squared rainbow of flashing lights. Well, the lights of the neighbouring desk dance joyously hypnotising my boss into such a stupor that she fell off her chair. Mine do not dance as yet. I am still waiting for my training course to turn the darned thing on.

Those flashing lights also distracted the only person in the office (apart from the cleaning staff) who actually gets any work done, my boss’s secretary. Believing the IT Manager to be the culpable idiot, she ignored his advice and said that something could be done about the problem. As soon as he was gone, I saw her putting a black plastic bag over here blazing tower, which of course literally started to blaze after a few minutes.
Of course, I accidentally forgot to mention this to the IT Manager, perhaps because his main pleasure in life is trying to make other people look stupid in front of their co-workers. That will teach him for being so condescending all the time and it has worked. Everybody now thinks that he is stupid for buying unreliable, experimental technology. I do feel a little guilty though that all of the computers have now been returned to the manufacturer who are desperately trying to work out what sort of internal failure nearly burned down out office but at least we have the old ones back again.

Best of all, the boss’s secretary is happily working again. Her word processor and spreadsheets are back on line, whatever that means. ‘No more bugs’, she says.

If only we had listened to her, but she is no expert. Personally, I think that her whacky ideas of hiring more secretaries or, failing that, teaching people in the office to use their keyboards with more than the index finger might well have been money better spent. But who would listen to her?

And perhaps they should have been more respectful of the Marketing Manager’s opinion. That appeared to have cost us half our jobs, including that of the Technical Director.

The new design was full of such wonderful technical innovations and high-tech wizardry that we all thought that the Technical Director was right about it being a sure fire success. We were just flabbergasted at how good it sounded, all of us except for the Marketing Manager who tried to put a dampener on things by saying that it was simply too ugly to sell. Oh, and the bean counter who said that it was not cost effective to build.

Things really could only have got better in industry with the introduction of teamwork and the experts being forced into explaining everything in words that everybody can understand. Now everybody is included in the decisions and can participate.

The best team leader is an unbiased generalist who knows at least the basics of what each expert is talking about. Many companies in the modern world even send their management trainees through all of the different departments to methodically create a true generalist for the job of leading the teams and bringing the knowledge of the experts together into a comprehensible whole.

It was an important lesson from Japan to include the workers themselves rather than leaving them out and leaving it all to the experts. That is where most of their pioneering ideas in manufacturing came from, the common sense factory floor and the people who were actually doing the work. The ordinary person is the one with common sense and who sees the problems with the basics.

If all of the basics are right, you cannot go far wrong. One basic error in the foundations and you will have a total disaster on your hands.

The best decisions are the decisions that take all points of view into account.

The common person must be included in the debate and for that to happen, they must be informed.
And it is the use of common language that brings together all of the knowledge of many subjects. It allows experts to be understood and you would have thought that that was what they wanted....

Or would they want to bamboozle us and blind us with science to get their own way, exclude us. Worse still, I have seen non-English speaking cultures in which language is deliberately used as a weapon of class and status. It is used in this way as the direct opposite of its real purpose of communication. There is no intention of communication and the last thing that is proposed is that the other understands the issues. Instead, the most complex and convoluted language possible is used to damage the self confidence of the other and put them in their lowly place.

Incomprehensible jargon or structures are used as a tool of unquestioning obedience in cultures that still have the master and slave mentality and hierarchy. It both massages the ego of the perpetrator and damages the self-confidence of the person of lower status. It opens the way to corruption and the abuse of power by making people powerless.

The Campaign for Plain English is a very major educational issue too. Plain English allows deep understanding and the application of a theory in the real world and is hence advocated in the methodologies of Independent Learning. Jargon is a part of memorisation of somebody else’s words for repetition in an examination and is hence discouraged, kept to a minimum in modern education. It does not foster understanding or real world application. It is difficult to process the theory outside of its narrowly defined and taught limits. The knowledge becomes merely academic.

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