3 C’s for Appropriately Using Slang in the Multi-Generational Organization
Or, Why Slang Is a Professional, not a Generational Issue
Rejoinder to April 27, 2017 #GTIdeology Happy Hour
Over the weekend, one of the student sports journalists that I follow tweeted his opinion that a player taken in the NFL draft would “put on” for the fans of his new team.
It’s the kind of whippersnapper slang you expect to hear when you follow whippersnappers on twitter (twhippersnappers? 🤔). And I have no doubt it is the sort of slag you would hear around any student newspaper sports department. But what about the sports department at a non-student paper — where geezers also work? Is generational slang still appropriate? Or should it be curtailed?
Obviously that illustration is specific to an occupation — and probably sports writing is one that lends itself more readily to using slang and being relevant, even hip, by using it, certainly more so than CPAs, attorneys, or doctors — but the application applies across industries. The answer to those questions is that when and how slang is appropriate will vary by culture, but that curtailing it is not appropriate.
How, if, and when to use slang can be assessed with these “3 C’s”: Clarity, Context, and Comfortableness.
Clarity: Communication Must Be Clear
Slang becomes a problem when it compromises the clarity of a communication. Your first task as a communicator is to be understood. Slang for its own sake can certainly inhibit the cogence that effective communication depends upon.
That means curtailing our own slang where it inhibits our ability to communicate. It is never incumbent on another individual to decipher your slang. It is incumbent on you not to use slang in such a way as to cause confusion and fail to communicate.
To be explicit, I am speaking to every individual here, regardless of age: In business, slang is a professional issue, not a generational one.
Context: Slang Can and Must Be Contextual
Admittedly, “put on” was a new phrase to me. I put on my pants. Or, if it’s chilly outside, I put on a jacket, but do you remember “context clues” from grade school grammar? They applied here. I knew exactly what “put on” was predicting in that tweet: The player is not only going to give his all to his new job, he is actually going to perform well at the job.
Context created clarity. Often, that is the case, but context also constrains when and how we use slang in organizational communication.
Informal phrasing, slang is entirely appropriate to twitter (the medium) and the personal and professional brands in question. Would it be as appropriate in an article? Probably not, but would it be appropriate in a column? Probably so. Articles are for news and facts, columns are for personalities and opinions. (Sadly, that distinction is largely lost in the news media now, but I digress.)
The language we use, slang or otherwise (and including jargon) must be contextual. That is appropriate to our brand, our communication medium, our task at hand, and, most importantly, our own personalities.
Comfortablness: A Healthy Culture is Comfortable
A functional, healthy culture is comfortable. It is a place where each individual can be and do what is consistent with her or his personhood. That is authenticity.
Diverse language is a necessary byproduct of diversity. With it invariably comes slang (and other ‘peculiar’ ways of speaking that reflect demographic and geographic diversity).
The only reason to be angry at slang qua slang is because you do not like the individual (or something about “those people”) using it. In a functional, healthy culture there will be no more inherent conflict between generations than between races, genders, or sexual proclivities.
Quashing language is quashing diversity, which is quashing the individual. That is not authentic and nobody is comfortable when it happens.
As I said above, I expect to hear generational slang (and occasionally decipher emoji-ese) on twitter. That is because I am an intergenerational guy, as comfortable with whippersnappers as any other demographic and valuing individual whippersnappers.
But I do not only expect to hear it on twitter. It is part of the radical diversity that defines both my own life and the Skolny Organization, where we call it the Culture of Greatness, in which creating Greatness through the Individual is encouraged.
About Vince Skolny
Vince Skolny is currently launching the Skolny Organization, a family of for-profit companies, on his radical idea that greatness is only created through the Individual. Its essential purpose of impacting the world by creating and encouraging greatness through the Individual in business, life, and society.
Pronounced G-T-Ideology and comprising “7 Radical Ideas to Impact the World,” the Skolny Organization’s GTIdeology is a comprehensive ideology for business rooted in Vince’s philosophy of Greatness through the Individual.