Terry was a fast jet pilot who was my neighbour in the Officers Mess.
He was still in bed when I left for my office in the morning and I'd find him reclined on my couch in my room watching my TV when I'd return after work. It wasn't his fault. His Squadron flew Macchis and they spent a lot of time grounded with mechanical problems.
'What's the definition of an optimist?' I'd say within his earshot at the Mess bar. 'A 79 Squadron pilot in his flying suit.'
Terry's response was to take me flying, let me have a go for a bit, then turn off the cockpit air conditioning so hot air blew at my oxygen mask encased face, then do high G force aerobatics until I threw up.
One evening I'd been downstairs in the Mess Bar and returned to get something from my room. Terry jumped up when I walked in.
'Mate! Who are the chicky babes I saw you with you in the Mess?'
I explained that they were Uni students who were members of the Air Force Undergraduate Scheme, and as a graduate of the Scheme, I had been asked to host their orientation visit to the Base.
'Well, I'd better demonstrate my Officer Qualities, put on my flying suit, and go downstairs and introduce myself,' Terry said. After he'd changed, I watched him stride down the corridor, stop, look down and pat the empty velcro patches on his puffed out chest, glance and slap at each blank velcro square on both shoulders of his flying suit, then do an about turn.
'Badges! Not enough squadron badges! I need to put my badges on! Chicks dig flying suits with badges!'
Knowledge workers wear badges designed to impress.
'Let's scrub in on stakeholder engagement and designate a high performing team to drill down and exploit the leverage at our next all-hands meeting and get buy in on being fully committed to this project, going forward.'
Sewn into our writing and speech.
'To better position our team to compete in a highly fragmented and competitive market, we'll reach out and engage a thought leader to partner with us to think outside the box and transition to new markets.'
Declaring our organisational status.
'There's been a paradigm shift that has impacted the level playing field and re-tooled the key performance indicators for our deliverables so we need to get some skin in the game and shoe horn our people into places at the table.'
Someone successful adorns their language with badges. We want to be seen as successful. We clothe our writing and speech in them like faded army greatcoats bought from a surplus store.
Shortly before I transferred to the Air Force Reserve, someone decided to introduce a badge showing that a person had met their fitness and weapons handling standards. Yet if an Air Force member didn't pass those annual tests, they would be discharged. Therefore everyone wore the badge. It effectively said: 'I'm in the Air Force.' It was meaningless. It had the status of a button.
Same with this language. It's a recycled tacky plastic badge. It presents my credentials in a one way conversation. It betrays that I'm not confident in the substance of what I have to offer you. Terry didn't wear his badges when he was doing his job with his Squadron. He was judged on how he made his Widget of perfecting the strafing of ground targets. He deployed his badges to impress civilians who didn't know any better.
While we're at it, let's purge the valedictory 'Warmly's, 'Sincerely's, 'Faithfully's and other standardised, one-size-fits all regardless of the text that went before it - endings to emails. (I've often received an angry tirade in an email from a member of clergy expressing contempt for me that has closed with a variation of 'Christ's Blessings and Peace Be Upon You'.)
Stand out. Make the effort to use plain language. Step out from behind the mass produced patches. Delight us. Show us you trust us with - you.
Become who you are.
Here's some templates to begin with that can be easily tailored for different contexts:
'Let's meet with Tom and Harry and get their help to decide what we want to do.'
'Our client is unhappy and we need to fix that.'
'I'd like to speak with you about the idea you had.'
'You were right. I was wrong. I'm sorry.'
'You did a good job.'