Mbabane, Swaziland | 27 August 2014
I once had a manager who used all sorts of fancy words. His favourite was systemise, but he also loved streamline and framework.
Occasionally he would slip these three words into the one sentence: “Hey, Bill, can you hurry up and Systemise the Streamline Framework, we have a Strategic Meeting in ten minutes.” (I knew those words were not meant to have capital letters, but I could hear him capitalising them through his tone of voice.)
My first reaction on hearing such a strange sentence was to panic. I would then rush to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my face. After I had cooled down I would put the kettle on and make a cup herbal tea, just to settle the nerves.
It was usually at this stage however – as I shuffled around the office kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil – that I would feel the little drops of sweat begin to slide down the small of my back.
Oh geeze, I wondered, how am I going to bluff my way through this one? What on earth is he talking about?
The troubling thoughts kept racing through my mind. I know we discussed some framework what what last week and he keeps rabbiting on about streamlining this and streamlining that, but I just don’t know what he means.
Making matters worse was Mr J’s use of the phrase “strategic meeting”. I kept thinking what the opposite of this would be: a non-strategic meeting. Now that would be a laugh.
For ethical reasons, I shall not name the manager currently in question. All I can say is that he is a well-educated man who grew up in a First World country where English is the first language.
And to be honest, now that I think of it, I have actually forgotten his name. For the sake of the column, though, I will call him Mr Jargon – or Mr J, for short.
(In the interests of gender equality and women’s rights, it’s worth mentioning that I have also had several First World female managers who were rather fond of fancy words. They were also keen to let me know how many academic certificates they had. I’m not sure why, but I guess it was just their way of making conversation.)
Now, because Mr J was my manager, I paid him the respect his position deserved. Status in the workplace, after all, is paramount. Forget this at your own peril.
After some time in the job I would even begin to mimic him. If Mr J can rise through the ranks using such fancy words, then couldn’t I do the same?
After I became good at parroting him, I thought it was time to “out-parrot” him. That is, when I was feeling a bit bullish, I would try to “out jargon” him. I would use even fancier and even bigger words than him. I would usually do this in front of the big boss.
When Mr J would say, “Hey Bill, have you Finalised the Conditionality Capacity Building Systematic Regional Half-Annually Report.”
My response was, “Well, Mr J, All Protocol Observed, in the Short to Mid to Medium Term on Conditionality 1-6, my Work Team hath Terminated said Regional Once-Half-Yearly Report.”
I looked at the boss. She was very impressed. Mr J, on the other hand, was fuming. You could see the steam coming out of his ears. That’s his headache, I smugly thought to myself as I sipped my herbal tea.
Read on next week to find out why Mr J fired me.
This column was originally published in the Times of Swaziland on 27 August 2014