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Monday Morning Notes
February 20, 2012
from the desk of Chuck Violand... 

Good Monday morning, <<First Name>>—  

            Every now and then I find myself wanting to write on a little lighter subject in my Monday Note series. Today is one of those occasions.
            Communicating clear messages to the people in our organizations is serious business. But it can be hard to do. What I find humorous is the way we frequently bend our words in an effort to soften the impact of tough messages. Unfortunately this practice can diminish the intent of our message, and in some cases make it downright confusing.  



by Chuck Violand... 

            It seems the iron fist of Alpha Talk has grabbed me by the collar and given me no choice but to speak up against what appears to be a resurgence of Beta Talk. It’s been eight years since I last wrote on this topic (3-29-2004 WHAT DID YOU SAY?). If you’re unfamiliar with the term, my definition of Beta Talk is using words in conversation that soften the impact of what’s really being said, sometimes to the point of entirely obscuring the intended message. Some people view Alpha Talk as too direct or harsh, so they engage in Beta Talk to soften the approach.
            The other day I saw a help-wanted ad looking for people interested in a career in “conversational marketing.” I had to applaud the person responsible for this stroke of brilliance, likely the result of the company’s failed attempts to recruit “telemarketers.”
            Can’t you just picture the company’s executive team brain-storming new titles for jobs involving telemarketing? I don’t care how much creativity or lipstick it took to come up with “conversational marketing.” In my opinion it’s still telemarketing.
            Maybe this is the same team who invented the term “inventory leakage.” Really?! The inventory is slowly filtering out the back door all by itself?! If that’s the case your inventory must be a lot smarter than my inventory. I’m not sure mine knows how to walk, much less leak!
            Perhaps these folks came from the aviation industry. On my last trip through the airport I noticed a guy walking around in a red vest that announced his position as a “Mobility Assistant.” He must have been promoted from his previous job as a Porter.
            Beta Talk in business is nothing new. Years ago the Ford Motor Company issued a notice after Firestone tires blew out on their Explorer SUV’s, referring to it as a “customer notification enhancement action.”  Thirty seven letters were used to say what could have been said in six: recall.
            Today some auto manufacturers don’t want to mention even the possibility of their cars “breaking down.” That might be too alarming. Instead they refer to this as a “mechanical disablement”, which could lead to “trip interruption.” I can only hope if my trip is ever interrupted because of a mechanical disablement there’s an “internal combustion resuscitation specialist” available to get me back on my way.
            Finally, when did it become so unfashionable to tell people you’re in sales? Now everyone wants to say they’re in “business development” or “client relations.” I’m fine with either of these terms as long as somebody’s actually selling something, because that, along with good old Alpha Talk, is how successful businesses sustain their success.
            There’s an epidemic of Beta Talk in business and I think it’s hurting rather than helping. Think about it: would you rather receive the difficult message of being fired head-on or have it blurred by being told “we’re freeing up your future” or hearing terms like “out placement” or “alternate locations of employment?”
            While it’s fun to make light of the subject of Beta Talk, those on the receiving end deserve the honesty that Alpha Talk often provides. 


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Randy Rapp
Purdue University

Randy Rapp, D.Mgt., P.E., C.C.E., C.P.C., A.I.C., is an Associate Professor of Building Construction Management Technology at Purdue University.  He coordinates the first-of-its-kind Disaster Restoration and Reconstruction Management concentration in the Department of Building Construction Management Technology at Purdue University.  While with Kellogg-Brown & Root, he served in various professional capacities including project controls and materiel and logistics management for hurricanes Katrina and Wilma and demobilized the Restore Iraqi Oil program from Basra as its deputy program general manager.  Randy’s work during the past decade included several years as the program director for the construction management degree program at Milwaukee School of Engineering and one year as the subject matter expert for the Technical, Education, and Certification Boards of AACE International.  In 2010 he served as the chairman of the Government Affairs Committee of the Institute for Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification (IICRC, now Clean Trust).  He now serves as one of the members of the Restoration Industry Association (RIA) Certified Restorer Redevelopment Committee. He recently authored Disaster Recovery Project Management: Bringing Order from Chaos. Dr. Rapp has delivered many formal presentations and higher construction education courses and compiled much education and training courseware during the past 35 years, earning awards for curriculum development and teaching.  He co-authored the book Introduction to Engineering Construction Inspection.  Along with doctoral management studies and engineering education at the bachelor’s and master’s levels, Randy found that wide experience with planning, training for, and executing contingency operations as a military engineer helps prepare one for the unpredictable, demanding and fast-paced environment that characterizes the management of disaster recovery projects. 



APRIL 2012


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