Audio version 6’30”
How You Structure A Sentence Has A Direct Effect On Your Management Performance
Want to be decisive and masterful? Damn right you do. Confidence gets you everywhere. It’s why you see gorgeous women with short, tracksuited criminals, and why the most annoying girl you knew in school now represents you in the federal government.
As you suspected all along, some less-intelligent people are super-confident, because they have little sense of their limitations.
Side-note: there’s nothing wrong with being less-intelligent. Is there anything more insufferable than people who casually drop their Mensa membership into the conversation? Or worse, their ‘gifted’ child who is eligible to join. What a world of casual one-upmanship (and it would be men) their gatherings must be. I’m guessing genuine brain wizards don’t actually go to Mensa because they’re busy doing powerful brain things, leaving only those who would like everyone to know how superior they are.
But back to the stupid-but-confident. We’ve all worked for one of these.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect
You will have heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. These two psychologists were inspired by a man who robbed two banks with his face smeared with lemon juice. Why? Because he heard that lemon juice could be used as invisible ink, so obviously that would stop security cameras recording his face.
Dunning and Kruger’s studies found that incompetent people (“scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic“) not only failed to recognise their own lack of skill, but also failed to recognise genuine skill in others. Yet smarter people underestimate their skills, because they suffer the uncertainty that comes from seeing both sides of debates.
So they can appear hesitant and indecisive, like an annoying Hugh Grant film character.
I saw this recently at a software launch. The audience was excited. From the back of the room came: “Looks great. But will it be available for mobile as well as desktop?” The expert presenter paused, eyes darting from side to side, and replied: “Ah, um … potentially, yes.” Translated into English: “not in a thousand years”.
Qualifiers Sap Your Powers
Qualifiers are the problem here. They’re words that make you look evasive and weaken your message. They sneak into a perfectly good line and dilute its impact.
Tell people you either are or you aren’t. Not potentially might be, or could conceivably be.
You will or you won’t, not probably going to in the fullness of time.
Here are some classic offenders: Sort of. Kind of. Rather. Sometimes. Possibly. Maybe. Quite. Potentially. Probably. Reasonably. Qualifiers suck the life out of all communication, from speeches to everyday chat around the office. Part of the art of management is looking decisive (as well as actually being decisive).
What Would Muhammad Ali Say?
Let’s sneak some management qualifiers into some great speeches and see if they would still turn the course of history.
1.We may find it necessary to fight them on the beaches!
We have a range of things to fear, of which one is fear itself.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
3. It is an ideal for which I might consider a willingness to die.
4. Ask not what your country might do for you – ask what you might give due consideration to doing for your country.
John F. Kennedy
5. I am among the greatest!
Less is more. Half the time you don’t know you’re using qualifiers to pad things out. Watch video of yourself doing presentations and you’ll be surprised at all the filler.
Right now the MBAs reading this are thinking: look at you, cranky writer guy with your delusions that grammar can affect business performance. And this, MBAs, is why people don’t want to work for you.
Because the way you use words gives away how you think, and affects how you are received as a leader. Good people want to work for managers who are clear on where the business is going, and are prepared to own both successes and failures.
How you speak and write can make you the opposite of a leader, coming across as an evasive, blame-shifting reptilian.
A lot of it comes from using the “business passive” voice, rather than the active voice. Management types love passive sentences. Here’s the difference:
“We let the whole brand purpose team go because they achieved nothing.”
We can all relate to that. But let’s translate that pleasing sentence into the passive voice.
“The brand purpose team has been undeployed by management due to sub-optimal results being achieved in actioning our goals.”
Sure that’s weak and hard to understand, and I threw in some bonus jargon at the end, but at least it owns up to who did the thing: management. We can make it much worse by translating it into MBA Passive.
“The brand purpose team has been undeployed due to sub-optimal results being achieved.”
In business passive sentences, nobody takes responsibility for the thing that’s being done.
Like firing people is just something that happens spontaneously, rather than something deliberately planned and executed.
When you say it passive style, you’re not taking any responsibility for your decision. In other words, you are weak and a coward.
If you can train yourself to use active sentences – and for some managers that’s like getting off meth – you come across as a person of action, decisive and willing to take responsibility for what you do, even if that represents bad news. And part of what you are paid to do is deliver bad news. You are not a store Santa.
People will follow you if you come across as real. They form their most lasting impressions of you from your performance in the bad times.
Speaking of performance, as ol’ MC Hammer might have passively said he had done a post-stardom MBA instead of being ordained as a minister:
This Can’t Be Touched By U.
P.S The analysis plugin gave me a frowny face this week for using too many passive sentences, this is the thanks I get.
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