As we learned yesterday, a communicator's request for information gave me an emotional flashback from my stint as a hapless operator of an "Employee Communication Hotline."
I answered his request thusly (I've changed his name to protect myself from accusations of being an even bigger douchebag than I already am):
John, John, John, John, John, John, John, John, John!
You're on the verge of your encore career, and you're still groping around for demonstrable, unassailable, quantitative proof that clear and credible writing is more effective than pretentious bullshit?
And you think maybe I've been holding onto this secret all these years?
And you think I'll give it away for free just because you asked?
That's a whole passel of craziness!
Seriously, John, you have God on your side. And you want statistics, too? Who in the company is arguing with these suggestions? Here's my suggestion: The first person who tells you they don't think the corporate prose could be more understandable—just plant your back foot and punch him right in the nose. Unless it's a woman—"Susan," for instance—in which case, seize control by calling her by her last name: "Frankly, Jackson, it doesn't make any difference to me, because as of COB on June 8, 2014, I'm totally the fuck out of here. I just thought, as a last act, I'd try to leave this culture a little more communicative than I found it. What's your objection, exactly?"
Of course, you have to be prepared for the possibility that Jackson actually has an objection. Like, "Isn't it going to add yet more time-consuming nonsense to our already grinding workdays to have to run a grade-level test on everything we write, no matter who the audience or what the subject, and dumb it down until it satisfies the arbitrary test of some propeller-head in communications who isn't even going to be here this time next year?"
As for the first name/last name stuff, I don't think that's a hill you want to die on. A candid, insightful interview with Fred is infinitely and obviously better than a platitude exchange with Smith.
John, seriously: If you want to improve the company voice, I think you'll much better spend your last year demonstrating the power of clear, honest, credible communication and hoping it catches on in the corporate culture. Codifying credibility in the style guide? I think there's a good reason no one else wants that job: It's thankless, and probably ultimately fruitless.
In a P.S., I said I hoped John took the response in fun, "though I mean my main point seriously." Not hearing from him, I wrote him a couple of days later to say I hoped he hadn't been offended. Not at all, he said. Just waiting to respond until he had time to do so.
That was about a month ago. Nothing from John.
Yeah, that's what I thought.
Communicator, please stop turning to "communication experts" to give you quantitative data and "best practices" that you know in your heart don't exist about an art that you know damned well isn't a science.
Because the only answers you'll get will be from the sorts of lying creeps who would invent and staff an Employee Communication Hotline.
Well, I'm not lying anymore.