Feeling the FOG?

You walk to the front of the room.  The screen with your title slide is behind you, and in front of you are 350 people–and two cameras representing 1,500 more.  They have stopped their schedule to listen to you.  Some have their arms folded; some are whispering to each other; some are texting others using the company’s messaging platform.

It could be a great time to be brief.

Two recent articles point out the value of candor and of brevity.  The first is a description of the work of Laura Rittenhouse, who wages an ongoing campaign against what she calls FOG: “fact-deficient, obfuscating generalities.”  In one of her business services, she analyzes the corporate communications of leaders and publishes her Rittenhouse Rankings as a measure specifically of the candor she finds in them–or doesn’t find.  For most professionals in corporate communications, the editing of FOGgy prose is all in a day’s work; what’s remarkable about the Rankings is how much content-free writing some of the country’s largest companies are comfortable putting out there for view.

One on side: jargon, imprecision, loss of credibility, eye-rolling and disengagement.  On the other: candor, specificity, clarity, trust and motivation.  And one of those tends to take less time to deliver than the other.

The second article is by Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute, a think-tank for journalistic excellence.  Clark talks about the disproportional impact of the short sentence.  We all learned in high school comp class to “vary sentence length” as a matter of stylistic power, but it’s a hard value to find in corporate America.  Tragically, one of the typical reactions to a difficult business situation or a tough choice is to grind out more and more words in the hope of talking someone’s anxiety out of existence.  It rarely works.  More often, it looks like what it is: buying time and establishing dominance.  Because when you really know what you’re talking about, and really have a strong leadership idea, and are more confident than fearful, you find it more compelling to use fewer words.

Which, of course, brings us back to . . . candor.  Plain speaking sounds true and commands attention.  Are you good at it?

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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