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The Ruse of Ambiguity

Have you ever finished listening to an explanation from a purported subject matter expert only to wonder what it was they just said? It has been my experience that the more vague, general or ambiguous an explanation, the less command of the subject matter the person doing the explaining reasonably possesses. It is one thing to toss around the latest buzz-words, but it is quite another thing to actually know what they mean and have the ability to correctly apply them. In today’s blog post I’m going to reveal the tricks of those who practice what I call “the black art of confusion.”

Those of you that know me have come to understand that I prefer to cut to the chase and get to the root of an issue as quickly as possible. While I appreciate the great oratory skills of those who communicate using wonderful word pictures or the academies that can wax eloquent always using the best form of prose, I prefer my business communication to be quick and dirty … In the immortal words of Jack Webb: “The facts ma’am..just the facts.” Do not get me wrong, I’m not word bashing as I enjoy and appreciate anyone who has command of a great vocabulary (see an earlier post entitled “Vocabulary … It does Matter”), but I do not have time for a 30 minute explanation of something that could have been, and should have been communicated in 2 minutes … Ahh, the lost art of brevity, but I digress.

What all of us need to remain on guard against are the people (notice I did not say professionals) that always seem to speak at the 30,000 foot level … A high-level overview is fine as a summary, but certainly nothing beyond that. Vocabulary should be a tool for communicating expertise and not masking a lack of … Let’s define what I call the black-art practices of confusion:

1. Job security by confusion : Have you ever had an employee in a particular business unit or practice area paint the picture that things are soooo complex that only they can solve your problem? Nothing is too complex to be explained or understood, and no single individual is invaluable …

2. Sales by confusion : Have you ever been party to a sales presentation that was so sophisticated and technical that you arrived at the conclusion that sure “these guys really know their stuff” and ended-up purchasing something that was not at all what you thought it would be? Remember, if someone can not tell explain the benefits to you in plain English the benefits probably do not exist.

3. Intimidation by confusion : We’ve probably all had someone attempt to steamroll us at some point in our careers … multi-syllable techno jargon used in circular conversational patterns with an authoritative posture does not mean someone knows what they’re talking about, rather it usually means that they are trying to dazzle you with feigned brilliance in an attempt to intimidate.

So, what is the best way to deal with the black art of confusion? Force people to justify their positions by being specific … Make these wizards’ of confusion give you examples of relevant experience or have them explain their business logic in understandable terms. Make sure that your client’s, vendors, suppliers, partners, investors and employees all know that you value clear, concise, lucid and accurate communications.