I was recently told that writers for The Economist have to use a writing style, and words that can be understood by someone aged 8. Fantastic! I don’t care if it’s true or not, I’ve taken out a subscription in an attempt to have the world of high finance demystified. Communication is an art, an integral ingredient to a positive customer experience. Listen. Repeat. Create a common understanding.
This concept reminded me of an extract from “White Riot”, the first single by The Clash, who I just happen to think are the best band ever to stalk this earth. “All the power in the hands of the people rich enough to buy it. While we walk the streets, too chicken to even try it.”
Two minutes of blistering pure punk fury expressing itself with a clarity that few have matched since its release in early 1977. But I would say that, wouldn’t I? I’m an Englishman. The song is written by an English man about England. Were we really too chicken, or did we just not understand? What might a foreign correspondent think? Shall we ask The Economist?
“When a Briton says, ‘I hear what you say’, the foreign listener may understand: he accepts my point of view. In fact, the British speaker means: ‘I disagree and I do not wish to discuss it any further’. Similarly the phrase ‘with the greatest respect’ when used by an Englishman is recognisable to a compatriot as an icy put-down, correctly translated as meaning ‘I think you are wrong, or a fool’.
When a Briton says ‘by the way’ or ‘incidentally’, he is usually understood by foreigners as meaning ‘this is not very important’, whereas in fact he means, ‘the primary purpose of our discussion is…’ On the other hand, the phrase ‘I’ll bear that in mind’ means ‘I’ll do nothing about it’; while, ‘Correct me if I’m wrong’ means ‘I’m right, please don’t contradict me’.”
Is creative, flowery prose the way forward? How about stiff, stuffy formality? Or perhaps we should have left it to four angry Englishmen from West London? Whichever, in order to create that positive customer experience, we need to get it right.
Listen. Repeat. Create a common understanding.
What do you think?