Chris Lancelot: Management-speak hampers communication

A few weeks ago I posed the question 'Are you fluent in abbreviations?' I'm sorry to have to tell you, but it turns out that this was just the tip of the iceberg of verbal misunderstanding. I recently received a document from the head of our PCT which was mercifully shorn of abbreviations - and I still couldn't understand it.

Why do administrators go into 'Sir Humphrey' mode whenever they touch a keyboard? Their rules are simple, if annoying: never use a short word where a long one will do; never use a single word where a phrase could be inserted; use as many three-word phrases as possible (like 'derivative co-valent constructs'); regularly invent complex new terms to sound erudite - and constantly change them, just to keep everyone wrong-footed.

I can get my head round 'top-slicing', 'change management', and 'de-skilling': but when it comes to 'innovation landscape', 'performance metric', and 'care transitions' I start to glaze over; and as for 'risk-adjusted performance', 'bundled payments' and 'improved transfer processes between facilities', well, your guess is as good as mine.

The trouble is that managers think they are communicating when they send us this rubbish. Instead, clinicians glance briefly at the torrent of jargon and throw it in the bin.

In an NHS where clinicians constantly emphasise the importance of clear communication, why hasn't the same message got across to its managers? Do they think they are like unchallengeable high priests, incanting strange phrases which the common people cannot understand - indeed, aren't meant to?

Words are there for one purpose only: to enable one human being to communicate clearly with another. The more complex the statement, the more the message is lost.

By contrast, the most memorable communication is often the simplest. Who can forget Lincoln's definition of democracy: 'Government of the people, by the people, for the people' (as opposed to 'a person-based plebiscite for co-terminal governance')?

So here's a challenge: supply the most obscure or confusing piece of 'information' sent out by an NHS manager? Email me, and I'll present the best (or worst!) in a few weeks' time.

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