The Language of “Making Things Happen”

iStock_000002198982XSmall by Mike O’Mary
The other day, I was walking past a meeting room at work. The meeting was just breaking up and I heard the sales manager clap his hands together enthusiastically and say, “Okay; if that’s our objective today, let’s make it happen!”

Let’s make it happen. I don’t know what it is, but the workplace–particularly the business workplace–seems to spawn more than its share of euphemisms. I assume that when the manager said, “Let’s make it happen,” he meant, “Let’s do whatever we need to do to meet our objective.” But that would sound boring and not very leader-like, so instead he said, “Let’s make it happen.”

We’ve all had to sit through meetings that were peppered with trendy catch phrases, clichés and euphemisms. Unfortunately, these phrases seem to catch on with a lot of people. For every individual that suffers a gag reflex upon hearing the word “synergy,” there are at least half a dozen vice presidents who nod their heads in approval.

Karate fightPersonally, as a writer and occasional meeting-attendee, I think it’s best to say exactly what you mean. And when I hear something that sounds a little trendy, I try to translate it into plain English. For example, I’ve determined that when someone says, “It’s time to start thinking outside the box,” they really mean, “We’ve boxed ourselves in.” When they say, “We need to create a new paradigm,” that means, “Nobody is buying our product anymore.” And when somebody says, “This is no dog-and-pony show,” you’d better watch where you step after they’re done.

About 500 years before Christ, the Chinese philosopher Confucius figured out that, “If what is said is not what is meant, then what ought to be done remains undone.” So if you find yourself surrounded by people talking in euphemisms, you might try quoting Confucius. If they still won’t say what they mean, try quoting martial-arts expert Chuck Norris who once said, “When I want your opinion, I’ll beat it out of you.”

Mike O’Mary is founding dreamer of Dream of Things, a book publisher and online community for writers and other artists.

6 thoughts on “The Language of “Making Things Happen””

  1. Mike, the Chuck Norris quote made me laugh out loud. Anyone who quotes Confucius AND Chuck Norris in the same article deserves an award of some kind. And I share your weariness for corporate-speak. I was talking to someone just last week who kept calling research materials “assets”.

  2. Funny stuff, Mike! What strikes me, to Catherine’s point about specificity, is that none of those items really has any identifiable action associated with it.

    On the other hand, looking back on my brief stint as a sales manager, I am sure I said plenty of stupid things in an attempt to rally the troops–you eventually run out of inspirational ways to say “for the love of all that’s holy, please quit screwing around and do your damn job.”

  3. Jake: I would find it remarkably refreshing to hear someone use your last statement! But Catherine and you are right: most “rally the troops” messages lack specificity. If meeting attendees get distracted for a moment by donut sprinkles (as meeting attendees are wont to do), they might walk out without any idea of what, exactly, they’re supposed to “make happen”! Which is why I resort to Chuck Norris as a motivator.

  4. Mmmmm. Donuts.

    If they don’t respond to Chuck Norris, you can always use the Moe Howard move, i.e., take Larry and Curly’s heads and crack ’em together.

Comments are closed.