Corporate Communications
I'm in a really bad mood today, and it all has to do with corporate culture, American style. Yes. Here I am, 37 years old, now with my third officially corporate-type company and I'm beginning to see they're all the same, each one treating their employees like unloved children, the kind of children who misbehave and are in constant need of correction from a stern, unloving parent. A classic dysfunctional family setup. What really makes me despair is that I never intended to get involved in the world of business -- I'm a journalist, for chrissake. But American newspapers and wires are increasingly being taken over by corporate vultures who view us as profit centers from which ever-greater earnings can be mercilessly wrung. The latest assault came in the form of a memo from The New Boss, a passive-aggressive jackass who wanted to show everybody what a bunch of dummies we all are and what a penetrating understanding he has of the finer points of corporate communications. The New Boss is just the kind of guy, in fact, who loves phrases like "corporate communications." Did I say passive -aggressive jackass? The NB loves that phrase because it carries a seeming businesslike neutrality of tone while sounding threatening as hell at the same time. But enough of my complaining. Let's let the NB say it in his own special way: "When answering the telephone, please say, `(name of business)' and give your name. If you are from a culture where identifying yourself seems inappropriate or awkward, please accept this as one of the peculiarities of being associated with an American company. If you are a U.S. national and haven't picked up this practice, consider it a lifelong habit you acquired today. "Spare the pleasantries until any urgent business has been handled. Then the call should take on a professional tone bordering on fairly elaborate cordiality. `Yes Ma'am, no sir," etc. We will usually be dealing with customers or with colleagues who themselves may be in stressful situations .... A certain formality will help to keep the call on track and avoid misunderstandings and pointless conflict." Duh. The problem with a memo like this is that it insults those who understand it -- those who already have adequate communication skills and are in no need of simplistic bromides -- and goes over the heads of those few who might actually learn something because of its archly patronizing tone. "A certain formality," indeed. But in a way, I feel sorry for the poor guy who wrote this memo. The NB obviously felt he needed to communicate something to us employees, but his message got lost somewhere in the attempt. Who knows? Maybe somebody picked up the phone one day when he called from out of the office, and that somebody was rude to him. So why didn't he confront the rude person? Instead, he subjects us all to his indirect wrath, suggesting that if we aren't guilty now we will be someday. And sheeplike underlings that we are, we go along with him. Yes, we may be guilty of being rude someday, so we might as well be guilty now. Hey, it's not something worth losing your job over.

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