Keep it simple

Hello bloggers

Professionalese, legalese, journalese, officialese – we all slip into using some form of official language at work but does it really ‘ease’ the situation? I admit I’m probably worst than most as I love the English language and, as several colleagues tell me, I should be re-named ‘Wordsmith’ from Shoesmith.

New research from the United States by author Jason Fried (Co-writer of ‘Rework – change the way you work forever’) provides revealing evidence about the impact of language on customers and of more concern, the implications this has for the reputation of the organisation – in case of the private sector even affecting bottom line profitability. Of course it’s a bit of a ‘no-brainer’ (sorry slipped into colloquialism there) that communication is key to customer satisfaction.

Fried has found the more ‘inhuman’ the language used, the worse the customer experience. How often have we heard a train company gleefully announce “We apologise for any inconvenience this might have caused” when on a bleak  January morn, three successive trains have been cancelled because of the wrong type of weather…? Fried expostulates (I’m so sorry…argues) that in such a situation it would be better received if the announcement was “We’re so very sorry, we really are truly sorry”.

Fried says that language such as “Any inconvenience” is emotionally anaemic and can be perceived as dismissive. Direct, sincere language “I’m really sorry” works better – he contrasts the two different approaches as ‘renting’ and ‘owning’ language – with the latter being better regarded as genuine.

Next time you write an official HR-type letter to an unsuccessful job applicant (see previous blog post ‘I regret to inform you’) perhaps you should take a look at Fried’s research before putting pen to paper?


By | 2017-07-30T12:23:32+00:00 August 16th, 2010|Categories: Dean Shoesmith|2 Comments


  1. deb clarke 19th August 2010 at 5:59 am - Reply

    Well said, Dean. My personal gripe is job offer letters that sound like the applicant has done a bad thing and we are telling them off -‘this is conditional on reciept of satisfactory references and occupational health clearance, you should not resign your current post until it is confirmed that…etc etc’-

  2. Dean Shoesmith 20th August 2010 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    Hello Deb,

    Many thanks for your comment and I agree that this is a bit of legalese that needs review. While it’s legally important that job applicants don’t end up resigning too soon from their currrent job I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about the tone and lack of simplicity we use to describe this…mind you that sort of language also crops up in many HR procedures I’ve read – I sometimes think the language isn’t for the end user but for HR folk who ‘get off’ on writing in a complex way under the misguided view that this might somehow make their job more secure, or them seem more important.


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