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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tell It To Me Like I'm Stupid

"OK, let's get him on the phone." 
That's radio talk show host Kane. It's the 99.5 FM radio segment "War of the Roses," it plays around 8 a.m. on weekdays, and it's really fun to listen to him and Intern John catch cheaters in the act.
In the script, Kane plays a guy who owns a flower shop. 
"Hello, my name is ____, I'm calling from __ Flowers. Is Pete there?"
"This is Pete."
"We're doing a promotion today, just for picking up the phone, you get a bouquet of roses sent to anyone of your choice."
"Who is this?"
"We're your local friendly flower shop, just trying to drum up some local business and compete with the big boys, y'now?"
"How did you get this number?"
"We subscribe to all the local customer lists."
(Sounding confused) "Oh."
"So who should we send them to?"
"Um, let me think about that for a second. Hm. Yeah, you know what? I know. You can send them to Rachel."
"YOU GODDAMN PIG."
That was Pete's actual girlfriend, Karen.
"YOU GODDAMN PIG. HOW COULD YOU? IT IS OVER. I MEAN IT. OVER, PETE. OVER OVER OVER OVER OVER OVER OVER !@#$@#%!@#$."
"What the f****?"
"Hi Pete, let me explain. My name is Kane, and we do a radio show where we catch cheaters in the act. Do you have anything to say for yourself?"
"Karen. Hey Karen. I can explain this. It's not what you think."
"OH REALLY. OH REALLY!"
It is at this point that I'm usually doubled over on the steering wheel laughing.
Because Pete will spend about ten minutes trying to tell Karen that she is crazy, he didn't do anything wrong. "Rachel" was just being "helpful," she "comforted" him in a time of need, yada yada, et cetera, and so on.
Intern John will say something like, "That dude was crazy. How did he ever think he would get away with that?"
For the audience it's a funny but useful reminder. 
The truth is usually pretty simple.
When people have to complicate things to make them sound good, a personal agenda is at work.
We all know people with a lot of excuses, people who are windbags, people who make up every bullshit in the book.
Like my mother used to say,
"I'm sorry, I don't understand. Tell it to me like I'm stupid."
It is easy to say this and to nod your head. In real life it gets a lot harder.
You deal with people who mystify the facts, who pump up the action and their role in the action, confuse meetings with results, add jargon where they could use plain English, name-drop and acronym-lay and generally wrap a Ph.D., MBA and JD all in one around information that should be straightforward and basic.
Whether it's your doctor, your lawyer, your kid's school or your own organization, you have to be willing to confront the possibility that the emperor is walking around totally naked.
What you do with that information - if you can find it, because you'll invariably be discouraged - is your business.
At the very least, have the courage to ask. 
Dannielle Blumenthal is a seasoned communications professional with nearly two decades of progressive, varied experience in the public sector, private sector, and academia. Currently she is a public servant, as well as an independent freelance writer. This blog, like all of her public content, is written in her personal capacity unless otherwise noted. It does not reflect the views of the U.S. government, in whole or in part. Photo credit: Petras Gagilas / Flickr