A Rose By Any Other Name

Today, we’re going to play a little game. Every time I use a term that feels dirty (in that business way), you take a drink. It’s like the Reservoir Dogs game; every time someone swears, smokes or says a colour, knock one back.

I used to shutter at the utterance of three simple letters: M-B-A (drink). Now I have one. My transformation from a small-town farm boy into a suit, chasing top tier jobs in the consulting industry was not an easy one. However, I think the hardest pill to swallow was business terminology (and some would argue that I still haven’t caved on that point).

I can die a happy man if I never once say the word ‘synergy’ (drink) without a painful tone of irony and bile.

I’m well aware of the proper definition of this term, I simply prefer to talk about savings obtained through working together. The issue with terms like this is that they have negative momentum that I find easier to avoid than to overcome. The classic saying titling this post is often countered by pointing out the fact that very few people would be touched by receiving a dozen shitweeds. I’m diverging, but my point is simple: many business terms have taken on a similar connotation; one that often denotes disingenuous feelings. Perhaps the greatest sufferer of this condition is the concept of networking (drink).

When I started my degree, I realized that this was a term I would encounter frequently, however, I was so put off by it that I simply developed my own definition. To me, networking (drink) became the process of doing favours for others without asking anything in return. However, only recently have I realized my error. Since I seldom called any favours in, networking (drinking) had become a one-sided concept. Yet, in the new year, as I began to ‘leverage my network’ (take a couple) I realized I had only half of the equation.

Over the weekend, I was fortunate enough to help facilitate a leadership conference for a group of business undergrads. At one point, a student approached me and asked me how to network (drink). This question caught me off guard for two reasons: first, I hadn’t really thought of it before and second, once I did think about it, I realized that networking (drink) isn’t anything special.

My new definition of networking (drink) is simply making friends. I realize that in order to sell books on the topic and to publish an article of top 25 networking tips (drink 25), we have to use a special word, otherwise these writings would sound like self-help manuals for the socially inept. However, I believe our society needs a greater culture of critical thinking. Do not let simple buzz words frighten or impress you. Instead, think to the core of what is trying to be said. Business buzzwords may be used to help individuals sound more creative, however, they simultaneously confuse and deteriorate communication.

I guess my point is, the next time someone uses words like synergy, networking, competencies, downsizing or sustainability (I am so sorry to those still keeping score at home), stop and use your brain for half a second to realize that they are simply talking about savings, friends, skills, firing people or trying to be a decent human being.

If you’re not thoroughly faced by the end of this article you have either not been reading very closely, disobeying my orders, or found none of these terms inappropriate and possibly have no soul.

One Comment Add yours

  1. -M. says:

    Business terms, like other words with synonyms, are coined to communicate a notion in a specific setting. The terms “making friends” and “networking” are similar in concept but do have different definitions; one implies an intimate action that caters to one's personal side, while the other implies a more formal action that caters to one's business needs.

    When I network, I am building relationships so that I may later leverage them to succeed in my work-related endeavors. When I'm making friends, I am building relationships so that I may leverage them to compliment my life and surround myself with people who will inevitably define and influence me.

    Theoretically, the two terms are quite similar and the actions, settings, and results that govern them are almost indistinguishable. But fundamentally, they are different. And this is where I contend that the business terms are not only appropriate, but necessary.

    The English language is affluent in synonyms that the vast majority of people never use. Why say “he's so fickle” if what you mean is that he's erratic? “Continuous” and “continual” are synonyms and are often used interchangeably, however they do not mean the same thing. The nuances in their definitions, however slight they may be, make it so that the use of one is more correct than the other depending on what is being communicated. I think we fall back on the “you know what I mean” justification a little more often than we should. We could benefit from making an effort to find the proper word to communicate what we truly want to say, instead of relying on interpretation. But I digress.

    If I were to say “I'm going to the local bar after work to network with some friends”, I reckon most people would label me as being a cold, calculating person. And if I were to say “I'm going to a conference for work next week to make some friends”, many of my colleagues would think me naïve.

    Some words have an inherent negative connotation based on their definition, and some do due to the associations we impose on them. For me, the terms “synergy”, “networking”, and “competencies” evoke superficial associations that are analogous to “savings”, “friends”, and “skills”. Nonetheless, they are not the same; at the core, the former terms trigger thoughts associated specifically to my nine to five lifestyle, whereas the latter ones elicit deeper feelings related to my being as a whole.

    I would not drop my friends while out for drinks in a Saturday evening if an acquaintance I met while networking called in a favor. I would, on the other hand, drop my acquaintance while networking if a friend called and needed help.

    I believe that making that distinction is important. I also believe in clear and concise communication. And because of those beliefs, I take a shot for all my fallen business terms; not because they are dirty, but because they have been stigmatized. Salud.

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