Beating the Black Arts of Confusion

Have you ever finished listening to an explanation from a purported subject matter expert only to wonder what it was they just said? It has been my experience that the more vague, general, or ambiguous an explanation, the less command of the subject matter the person doing the explaining likely possesses. It is one thing to toss around the latest buzz-words, but it is quite another thing to actually know what they mean and have the ability to correctly apply them. In today’s column I’m going to reveal the tricks of those who practice what I call “the black art of confusion” propagated by the ruse of ambiguity.Those of you that know me have come to understand that I prefer to cut to the chase and get to the root of an issue as quickly as possible. While I appreciate the great oratory skills of those who communicate using wonderful word pictures, or the academics that can wax eloquent always using best form of prose, I prefer my business communication to be quick and dirty. In the immortal words of Jack Webb: “The facts ma’am…just the facts.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not word bashing as I enjoy and appreciate anyone who has command of a great vocabulary, but I don’t have time for a 30 minute explanation of something that could have been, and should have been communicated in 2 minutes. Ahh, the lost art of brevity, but I digress. What all of us need to remain on guard against are the people (notice I didn’t say professionals) that always seem to speak at the 30,000 foot level. A high-level overview is fine as a summary, but certainly not for anything beyond that. Vocabulary should be a tool for communicating expertise and not masking a lack thereof. Let’s define what I call the black-art practices of confusion: 1. Job security by confusion: Have you ever had an employee in a particular business unit or practice area paint the picture that things are so complex that only they can solve your problem? Nothing is too complex to be explained or understood, and no single individual is invaluable. Real knowledge should be transparent, transferable, and heavily leveraged, not horded or kept in isolation. 2. Sales by confusion: Have you ever been party to a sales presentation that was so sophisticated and technical that you arrived at the conclusion that, “surely these guys really know their stuff;” and as a result ended up purchasing something that wasn’t at all what you thought it would be? Remember, if someone can’t explain the benefits to you in plain English, then the benefits probably don’t exist. The best sales professionals communicate in clear and succinct statements, that are factually based, and that add value. They are never vague or ambiguous. 3. Intimidation by confusion: We’ve probably all had someone attempt to steamroll us at some point in our careers. Multi-syllable techno-jargon used in circular conversational patterns with an authoritative posture doesn’t mean someone knows what he’s about. Rather, it usually means they are attempting to dazzle you with feigned brilliance in an attempt to intimidate. Remember that opinion doesn’t miraculously become fact simply by adding emphasis.So what is the best way to deal with the black art of confusion? Force people to justify their positions by being specific. Make these wizards’ of confusion give you examples of relevant experience or have them explain their business logic in understandable terms. Make sure that your client’s, vendors, suppliers, partners, investors and employees all know that you value clear, concise, lucid and accurate communications.