You know, sometimes it’s what you say, and sometimes it’s how you say it. And sometimes it’s both.
The number 1 stupid communication is BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg who assured us that “We care about the small people.” Although I’m sure his intention was to empathize with Gulf coast residents, the result was exactly the opposite, infuriating everyone there.
Number 2 on the list goes to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein for letting us know that he was “doing God’s work” during the financial meltdown. What a saint. Millions of homeowners are under water due to Wall Street collateralization, and he’s making like clergy.
For #3, let’s look at some generalized comments that people tend to say. How about the phrase, “It’s not personal, it’s business,” when firing or laying off someone? That’s not at all helpful to the message recipient. And “I know how you feel” doesn’t help, either.
Number 4 is a tie between “We’ve always done it this way” and “We’ve tried that and it didn’t work” when talking to employees about new ideas. These are sure-fire ways to stifle creative thinking and reduce employee suggestions at a time when fresh concepts are exactly what most companies really need.
And rounding out the selection, for #5 we have a warning last year from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, concerning overheating computers and exploding batteries. Their advice to those laptop users: “Do not use your computer on your lap.” How helpful… our tax dollars at work!
What these communication miscues all have in common is their intention to be useful and informative, but instead being worse than saying nothing in the first place. The moral here is to think before speaking. Or as humorist Sam Levenson said, “It’s so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say and then don’t say it.”