Do You Understand the Words Coming Out of My Mouth?

Published on 01 July 2010 by Kelly Riggs in Job Search

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Rush Hour 211x300 Do You Understand the Words Coming Out of My Mouth?Question: Whatever happened to basic communication skills?

Seriously, it seems that employees who can actually write a legible sentence or communicate an entire thought in basic English have become an endangered species. I mean, speaking of “minority,” where is the legislation to make this a protected class of citizens?

Hey, I’m just sayin’…

Ya feel me?

No, I’m not advocating some sort of political position here, I am simply making an observation. Even a casual review of corporate email correspondence is enough to make an English teacher beg for mercy. This very common problem creates two significant problems for companies and their employees. First, there is a natural tendency (particularly with older Americans) to equate literacy with competence. If someone doesn’t know how to write or speak well, that individual is likely to be perceived as incompetent at some level (usually in proportion to how egregious the mistakes are). You can throw rocks at me if you want to, but it is what it is. Look at the way former VP Dan Quayle was crucified for spelling potato with an extra “e” at the end of the word. Potatoe? Really?

Or maybe a few “Bush-isms” will help you understand the tendency of people to equate communication skills with competency [English gaffes originating with former president George W. Bush]:

“They misunderestimated me.” [No doubt.]

“Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?” [True statement. This question is rarely asked.]

The challenge of poorly written business correspondence is that the company is often perceived in a negative light as a result of those mistakes. For instance, if a salesperson sends a letter or email message to a potential client regarding a large, complex sale – and that correspondence is poorly written – the prospect may decide to look elsewhere based on perception alone.

The second problem is that the vast majority of issues within a company are created by ineffective communication, and poor writing skills only make this problem worse. Performance reviews. Email correspondence. Policy memos. You don’t have to look far to see the problem….as in, “What is THAT supposed to mean??”

So what does all of this have to do with the average job hunter? It means that you may potentially have a competitive advantage right at your fingertips – or, you might be starting off your job search with two strikes against you. How would someone rate your skills at creating effective business correspondence? Do you write acceptably well? Do you know how to write a memo? A letter? An email message?

There is plenty of help available online. If you need it, don’t delay.

It seems us Americans ain’t talkin’ too good, don’t write worth a lick and are worser with e-mails. Our grammar, punctuation and spelling are/is abysmal. And corporate America is saying, STOP.

When Texas communications company Valor discovered its workers, including managers, weren’t communicating, it enrolled them in remedial business writing class.

Jeff Herrington thinks computers are partly to blame for dumbing down English.

“People who are used to using BlackBerries [and] instant messaging are transferring that way of writing into all forms of writing,” he says.

A recent survey found Fortune 500 companies spending more than $3 billion a year retraining employees in basic English.

Even writers have trouble writing.

Sacramento Bee columnist Don Morrison sees the enemy every time he looks in the mirror. Morrison is a client of Roger Peterson, who was among the first to notice Americans butchering their language.

“How about this expression, ‘for all intents and purposes.’ What does that mean?” asks Peterson. “[Or] ‘at this point in time.’ What does that mean? How is it better than saying ‘now?’ ‘That was an awfully nice dinner you just served me.’ Well, was it a nice dinner or was it an awful dinner? Make up your mind. We simply, now, must salvage American English.”

“Unbelievable” is one of today’s “in” words. But is it overused or used incorrectly? Unbelievable means I didn’t believe a word I just said. Anxious — “the president is anxious to meet the prime minister” — means he doesn’t want to meet him at all. And irregardless — look it up in the dictionary. You won’t find it because it’s not a word. Unbelievable.

[From a column by Roger O'Neil. NBC News Correspondent.]

4 Responses to “Do You Understand the Words Coming Out of My Mouth?”

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  2. Michael says:

    Unfortunately, the dictionary now lists irregardless as a word. Unbelievable! Yes, this means I do not (actually do not want to) believe this.

  3. I believe that an educated, literate workforce leads to a smarter workforce, as literate people are exposed to more perspectives and more information. I also believe an educated, literate workforce costs a business far less than the uneducated, practically illiterate workforce you’re describing (and which many others agree exists!). So, businesses benefit from having educated, literate workers.

    But who educated these workers? Who bore that cost?

    The government and society.

    Which is why businesses need to invest more in government and society. Donations for local schools and libraries are a smart way to invest in the source of a business’ human resources. To invest in one’s current staff? Train them, pay for their night school (a communications class perhaps?), or regularly talk to employees — modeling the style you want them to adopt.

    Well, at least that all sounds like good advice. Though it may not really be relevant to the article… sorry – i went on a tangent! More evidence of bad communication nowadays!

  4. [...] is a sweeping generalization and completely unfair. Actually, most people are well-educated (read this), well-read, and quite knowledgeable about current [...]