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How to Speak Like a Smart Northeastern Professional

February 5, 2010

  

Last week I met with a well-heeled trio of cheerfully determined strategy consultants. They came prepared to convince me that their proprietary knowledge of strategic business model frameworks would lead my company to growth and success. 

Following the obligatory small talk, the designated leader took charge and launched the meeting. He began his presentation with this: 

“So.”

Just like that, his entire delivery hinging on that little word, “So.” 

Maybe I shouldn’t care so much, but I am noticing this more and more in my professional minglings, especially among those who are inclined towards the consulting and investment banking fields. Any serious conversation one might have these days now starts with this seemingly harmless, but powerful little word: 

“So.” 

I’m not sure if it started with the Wall Street firms, or in the Pharma industry, or from some crappy Northeastern business school, but everywhere I go I hear lawyers, bankers, executives and consultants using this same little conjunction as the starting point for their conversations. 

The strategy consultant in my office continued with his presentation. 

“So.” He said. “Most companies are using commoditized business models that offer no competitive advantage, right?” 

Is it just me, or is this way of speaking catching on like corporate jargon wildfire throughout the New York Tri-State Metro region? This tiny word used to be a transitional throwaway – an afterthought – a grammatical conjunction to be used in linking two independent ideas together, offering the listener a level-headed logic and reasoning to the speaker’s conclusion. 

But now, these confident brokers of urgent knowledge don’t even bother with the preliminaries. Not important. They’ve switched the order, and now begin with a presumptive summary. It is assumed that you don’t have much time, that you are just as smart as the speaker, and that you are already quite familiar with all the details required to reach the brilliant conclusion they are about to present. 

So. The other thing I have noticed in these same conversations among elite business circles is that everyone ends their sentences with, “Right?” Right? Like you are part of the club, at the same intellectual level so that you can quickly validate the speaker’s point. 

So. You know exactly what I’m talking about, right? 

Are you noticing any jargonized business lingo happening at your place of work? 

Why do you think we have this compelling need to mimic each other? 

 

  

  

  
 
 
 

 

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2010 10:13 am

    Okay, well, I just think it’s a more formal way of saying, “Okay.”

    And coincidentally, in the UK they start every meeting with “Right.”

    As for the need to mimic? To connect? My husband regularly consults in the UK for 2 week periods. For MONTHS after that, he starts every conversation with “Right.”

    • February 5, 2010 10:15 am

      Right. Brilliant! (that’s the other thing I love about the Brits- everything you do is… Brilliant!)

      • Andrew Turner permalink
        February 5, 2010 1:31 pm

        Right! (Quite right!) You’re bloody well right, you’ve got a bloody right to say…

        I digress.

  2. February 5, 2010 10:25 am

    It’s not just in the Northeast. It’s everywhere. In some cases, I think people use it for shorthand — to avoid going through context or background because they think it’s boring or they don’t have the time for it and the pressure is on to sell. It can also imply a connection between them and you that may or may not exist, but “so” gives the impression that it does. And I’ve seen people use it to disregard a question or answering a concern. Amazing, isn’t it –it’s just two letters.

    • February 5, 2010 4:27 pm

      Glynn – That is very astute of you to pick up on the thing about impied connections that may not exist. That’s exactly what’s happening. Right?

  3. February 5, 2010 10:39 am

    So…

    🙂

    My line of work (counseling) is a bit more sensitive and more immune to those types of transitions, I think. But I can see this happening in the business world. It’s kind of taking the easy way out, right? 🙂

    That’s why, when I meet an articulate and socially skilled salesman these days, I usually take notice. I think it is more of a generational thing, perhaps. In this age of increasing electronic communication, all conversation seems to be abbreviated. I never thought I would be one of those old fogies that bemoans the lost art of conversation, but I guess I am.

    Right?

  4. February 5, 2010 10:58 am

    i would demand a translator.
    a cunning writer to cut the crap.

  5. February 5, 2010 12:55 pm

    When ‘so’ is used like that, it is heavy with polite contempt. If there is such a thing.

    • February 5, 2010 4:29 pm

      “…heavy with polite contempt..”

      that is true art, Kathleen. You should weave that into a poem. If you don’t then I will.

  6. Andrew Turner permalink
    February 5, 2010 1:48 pm

    I’ve used it in much of the same context (branding consultation) and just used it as an opener, like the British “Right.”

    Re: compelling need to imitate eachother, I think it runs in two channels: broad linguistics and narrow, type-specific.

    In essence, we’re working with language and wanting to be understood, if we are working to communicate adequately with our people. English imitates English and if we didn’t we couldn’t understand eachother.

    That said, there are those whose every sentence in a business context is laced with cliche and jargon. Usually they are younger, sometimes they are older. I may be wrong, but I often gauge business success capability by how often they speak in cliche: the more they use, the less they are likely to succeed on any major level, because they’re only repeating the commoditization (wd?)of a given structure, thus a complete loss of competitive advantage and inevitable long-term failure.

    George Orwell in his “Politics And The English Language” speaks on this subject at length, although obliquely; he speaks of political correctness et al.

    But whatever the situation, speech is very closely tied to thought (as is writing) and our communication needs to be thought out and tied up according to the circumstance.

    Love this post. It’s one of my favorite subjects.

  7. February 5, 2010 4:31 pm

    What I must confess after writing this is that I also have been sucked into this dirty habit. It’s so ubiquitous among the conversations that I am having lately.. I can’t help it!! Even the corporate guys in church are doing it! But I will fight the inclination. For the team.

  8. February 5, 2010 7:50 pm

    My husband has to attend a lot of business presentations. He picked up on this usage quite a while back; he dislikes it, understandably. We’ve talked about it.

    I wonder if use of “so” (a “connector” word) is similar to using “well” — like taking a breath before starting but making the pause audible.

    I don’t care for the usage, particularly in opening a formal business presentation; however, I try not to let its use take my focus off what needs to be heard.

    Using “so” over and over is annoying when you allow yourself to listen for it. Try to screen it out.

    Who among us isn’t guilty of some habit we point out in others but fail to see in ourselves?

  9. February 5, 2010 9:19 pm

    So, don’t forget that other obnoxious phrase, “you know.” Right?

  10. donkimrey permalink
    February 5, 2010 11:15 pm

    Thass what I’m talking’ about!

  11. February 5, 2010 11:32 pm

    I can’t believe that i’m still hearing the word “synergy”. Just what does that mean?

    And…Im not making this up. I edited a vision statement the other day that had the term “cross fertilization”

    I kid you not

    David
    http://www.redletterbelievers.com

  12. Jason permalink
    February 6, 2010 3:15 am

    This is all so true! My personal pet hate is, “at the end of the day”.

    • February 9, 2010 11:14 am

      At the end of the day …

      it gets dark!

      And I think that’s really the point of all this jargon – to keep as many people as possible in the dark.

  13. February 6, 2010 1:58 pm

    My love for words is supremely gratified by posts like this, Brad. You’ve well captured the great power of words, and how much can be communicated in a word as minuscule as ‘so.’ I’m willing to believe that used correctly, ‘so’ has as much power to inspire cohesive teamwork as it does to smugly alienate.

    I have a love / hate relationship with the internet. It denies us the ability to employ the tone of voice and body language which purportedly comprise 93% of communication. But we are therefore forced to more carefully weigh each written word, taking advantage of the time we have to formulate written language which is usually unavailable for oral conversation.

  14. March 3, 2010 6:34 pm

    So funny. (oops, I swear I did not start with “so” on purpose! : )

    Love this.

Trackbacks

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