Our very life is in our voice

2008

An unintended consequence of the popularity of "In Search of Excellence" - first published in the early Eighties in the aftermath of the deregulation of the financial markets - has been that the deregulation of management language it engendered, denuded once powerful words of much of their impact.

Had we seen fit to ration our use of passion when all we really meant was interest; had we learned to control the word extol, when all we wanted to do was raise a point of note; had our use of the word epic been truly proportionate; had excellence been banished from our vocabulary except when describing genuine merit - we should not find ourselves in a situation where superlatives no longer have power to describe the magnitude of the maelstrom currently threatening to destroy our economy.

If ever there was a need for verbal clarity it is now!

A world in crisis needs language that can convey how serious the situation truly is. But by turning superlatives into fatuous, everyday throwaways and squandering them on descriptions of minor glitches and miniscule successes we have eroded their potency and left ourselves devoid of words with succinct meaning.

Politicians and senior executives charged with the urgency of explaining solutions to an unprecedented problem find their vocabulary is just not up to the task.

Could it be that prudence - a word that Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has over-used so much that he has seriously denuded it of its core meaning – is regaining its true voice??

Unfortunately, it's more likely that the maxim money speaks louder than words is again proving itself a truism! And faced with no alternative but imminent melt-down, financiers are being forced to sit up, take stock, rein-in their wayward systems and haul them back into line.

Once we get out of this mess we must all - managers, politicians and main-street workers alike - examine the wreckage around us carefully and only retain from its detritus sections that can build a world economy in which making poverty history is integral to making future wealth.

While deciding what is worth saving, we must take particular care to winkle out words that have got buried in the morass. When we scrub off the sludge and polish them up, they will sound none the worse for wear and quickly flash out the meaning they were designed to signify.

Once that's taken care of we must look to grow the currency of English by incorporating other voices, for future economies and languages will both only be able to prosper by dealing globally.

I come from a distant land
With a foreign knapsack on my back
With a silenced song on my lips.
As I travelled down the river of my life
I saw my voice
(Like Jonah)
Swallowed by a whale
And my very life lived in my voice.

(Kabul 1989 : Poems on the Underground, London 2008.)

To help people such as that eloquent poet to get their lives back, words and phrases we pass on to them must genuinely underpin the ideas they are meant to express.

As from today (Momentous Monday as Robert Peston the BBC's financial correspondent has dubbed it) the excesses in terminology which have dogged the world of management for a couple of decades must be tempered with truthfulness.

That the same applies to the world's financial systems - goes without saying!

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.