Defend Yourself from Doublespeak

Tasteful Toasts DoublespeakLast month my brother Steve and I went to see famed actor, comedian and magician Harry Anderson perform at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Calif. You’ll remember Anderson from his American television sitcoms: an eight-year stint as jocular Judge Stone on Night Court or as con artist “Harry the Hat” on Cheers. A talented talker of doublespeak, Anderson’s performance prompted me to warn you of how silver-tongued speakers can scam you into buying something that seems to be a good deal but is truly bogus. The best defense against this trickery is to expose their secret language.

What is doublespeak?

Doublespeak is the name for language which makes the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, and the unpleasant attractive. It deliberately deceives, disguises, distorts, camouflages, misleads, inflates, circumvents, and obfuscates. Confused? A few examples will clear things up.

Politicians, publicists and the press are the kings and queens at spinning stories:

  • Airplanes don’t crash, they have “uncontrolled contact with the ground.”
  • You’re not unconscious during surgery, you’re just in a “non-decision-making state.”
  • Hospitals don’t have people that die, they have “negative patient care outcomes.”

Job seekers write creative career titles on resumes:

  • Janitors are “Custodial Engineers.”
  • Car mechanics are “Automotive Internists.”
  • Elevator operators are “members of the Vertical Transportation Corps.”

Defrauders escape through legal loopholes by emphasizing the first and last key words:

  • They buy and sell “solid fools gold.”
  • They use the best “genuine faux leather.”
  • They only import “real counterfeit diamonds.”

None of these people are lying to your face: they are telling you the truth with verbose verbiage to communicate a specific message.

Defend yourself from doublespeak by learning to listen to all the words that tumble and mumble out of mouths. Be mindful and study the incoming message instead of just mentally “sitting back” and believing all you hear.

Your turn: What doublespeak terms have you heard?  

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2 Responses to “Defend Yourself from Doublespeak”

  1. Rae-Ann
    June 8, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    Michael – this is a more powerful post than it appears, and your biggest lesson appears in the last 2 sentences. More should be written about that advice. We, as a group, have all put too much power into our filters, and what we allow to get through and we do not.

    Marketers are very aware of this – which is why we click on certain emails based on the subject, buy certain products because of the benefits we were pitched, etc. As speakers trying to drive back of the room sales, we are also guilty of this to a degree.

    In Victor’s veiled post: Speak from the Heart – when you come from a place of conviction & authenticity, you will reach who you need to reach, and won’t need to resort to double speak. But more importantly, you will be able to ‘listen and hear’ what others are actually saying, and will be able to better question what you hear. The goal is to stop using auto-pilot hearing, question your own filters, and to listen & buy smarter.

    As a marketing research expert and strategist, all of my education included studies into human psychology, human behavior, what triggers people to buy, and how people are reduced down to triggers and switches…. next time you go out shopping… look at places that have a product with a ‘sold’ sign on it. Listen for the terms ‘these are going fast, or i have a lot of interest in this’. All of these trigger our ‘reptilian’ brain into a scarcity mentality, and as a matter of survival from long ago, we will want those objects. Not everyone, not every product, but pay attention to how you react when those things come up for something that appeals to you.

    Obviously there is more to all this, but start paying attention to the words and actions people do to get you to buy, and pay attention to how your brain reacts and what gets triggered. You might be surprised …
    Thanks Michael for a great topic as usual.

  2. Michael Varma
    June 8, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    Thanks Rae-Ann – I appreciate your comments and great feedback. What fair and truthful phrases do you or Victor suggest for new speakers looking to drive more back of the room sales?