Be Clear, Be Brief, Don’t BS

Today is Thursday, so this post is on becoming a dynamic communicator.

I got a kick out of the Dilbert cartoon in last Sunday’s paper.  In case you missed it, here is a recap.  Dilbert approaches his boss (you know, the one with the tufts of hair that look like devil’s horns) and says, “The security audit accidentally locked all developers out of the system.”  The boss says, “Well, it is what it is.”

Dilbert says, “How does that help?”  The boss replies, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  Dilbert, obviously frustrated, says, “Congratulations you’re the first human to fail the Turing test.”  The boss says, “What does that mean?”  Dilbert replies, “It is what it is;” to which the boss says, “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

There really is such a thing as a Turing test. defines it as follows: “A test proposed by British mathematician Alan Turing, and often taken as a test of whether a computer has humanlike intelligence. If a panel of human beings conversing with an unknown entity (via keyboard, for example) believes that that entity is human, and if the entity is actually a computer, then the computer is said to have passed the Turing test.”

This is pretty funny.  It is also kind of sad as it is indicative of the lack of communication in today’s business world.  Scott Adams, Dilbert’s creator, really gets it when it comes to workplace dysfunctionality. 

The other day, I was reading Newsweek, and came across a small article about a new book, “Beyond Bullsh*t,” by UCLA Anderson School of Management Professor, Samuel Culbert.  Professor Culbert defines bullsh*t in the following way.

“It is telling people what you think they need to hear.  It may involve finessing the truth or outright lying, but the purpose is always self serving.  And while I appreciate the role of some b.s. in keeping the corporate peace, it makes people feel beaten up, deceived – even dirty.  When people talk straight at work, companies make out better because the best idea usually wins.  In contrast, when people are bullsh*tting, they hide their mistakes and the company suffers. Straight talk is the product or relationships built on trust.”

Phrases like “it is what it is” are not straight talk.  They are part of the inexplicable jargon that has overtaken us.  Dynamic communicators say what they mean, in an easily understood manner.  Not to further beat up Elliot Spitzer, but an article chronicling his downfall in Time Magazine began this way: “‘His visage described discountenance.’  Eliot Spitzer wrote those words about a character in a short story for his high school literary magazine…Spitzer was always something of an intellectual show off.  Jason Brown, a friend from those days, later told Spitzer biographer Brooke Masters that Spitzer might simply have written “he was unhappy’.”

I’m not holding Elliot Spitzer up to ridicule for something he wrote when he was in high school.  However, the point about being an intellectual show off applies here.  Effective communicators don’t show off their large vocabularies.  Instead, they choose words that are the most easily understood and still get across their point.

The common sense point here is clear.  Dynamics communications eschew, I mean don’t use, jargon.  They avoid meaningless phrases like “it is what it is” to explain something.  They use the simplest words possible to get across their ideas.  And they don’t bulls*it.  They say what they mean.  Follow these four rules in conversation, writing and presenting and you’ll become known as a dynamic communicator.

BONUS COMMUNICATION ADVICE – from my friend Suzi Pomerantz, Executive Coach and Author

I received an email from Suzi the other day – where everything was spelled correctly by the way — that had this footer…

"This message was sent from my iPhone, please pardon brevity and errors."

Now, that’s some great common sense advice for email communication from hand held devices.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense and to subscribe to my weekly newsletter “Common Sense.” 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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