In a glass and steel high-rise, in an American metropolis is a man named Henry. Henry, like many of his contemporaries, is a high-level manager who oversees a significant portion of a multimillion-dollar thriving business. Except Henry’s division isn’t doing so hot.
Henry, the silver-tongued devil that he is, is preparing for a management meeting where he will have to explain to his superiors, the status of current business affairs in his division. To plainly lay out the current situation in black and white to his superiors is a cardinal sin to him.
Holy water and divine intervention be damned. Henry knows his role. Cheerleading and obfuscation.
The meeting begins.
You’re sitting in the room while Henry is explaining recent events. You look around, and everyone else present is bobbing their heads in agreement. Meanwhile, you’re trying to figure out if dear old Henry is speaking in a language recognized by humans.
As the meeting progresses, energy seems to fill the room that is sweeping up the congregation while you’re still contemplating whether you really ought to purchase a Klingon Dictionary. The meeting ends with everyone clapping, high-fiving and giving off the air of a Texas high school locker-room after a field goal win on a Friday night.
On the way out, you hastily grab another manager and ask what she took away from this meeting. Moreover, this manager, who, not 5 minutes earlier was doing a gangbuster impression of a bobblehead on a dashboard, can’t tell you. You ask another, and another and no one can hit on the gist of Henry’s presentation. They only know that it was a positive, uplifting experience.
Henry has succeeded, and you have become a victim of office claptrap.
Webster’s New World Dictionary (and Thesaurus) defines claptrap as, “insincere, empty talk intended to get applause.”
“Insincere, empty talk.” You would think that workplace communication should have meaning and value. A joint mission to come together to produce or serve the greater good (i.e., clients, shareholders and employees). Apparently not.
Realism and pragmatism have no place in a claptrap world.
Claptrap is positivity for positivity’s sake. Groupthink at its worst. If you visit the About Us page on the STCG website, you will see we very explicitly state “we do not sugarcoat.”
When did it become acceptable never to tell the boss or client what is honestly happening in their business?
You see this a lot in middle management. If you’ve ever had a campaign tank and had to tell your boss exactly what the conversion rates are, you can see him/her blanch before your very eyes. If you make the severe tactical error of suggesting a conversation with management about an alternative path, you can feel the tension building before the slap down starts. How many managers do you know whose philosophy is that of the Ostrich? “Truth be damned, I’ll just put my head down and save my neck thank you very much.”
Plausible deniability. It’s not just for politicians.
I’m not saying every manager thinks like this. It’s just in my experience there are more people like Henry than pragmatists in the business world.
The point here is that only when you have an accurate understanding of the reality of your business situation can you make effective decisions benefitting your organization. A management strategy should be based on factual data, not warm fuzzy feelings.
Claptrap is flattery run amok. Claptrap leads to groupthink. Groupthink leads to bad decision- making (as many published books are happy to point out). Bad decision-making leads to stress in the workplace. Stress in the workplace leads to false, overly joyful, and everything is going to be all right meetings. Which leads to more claptrap. It’s a vicious cycle that never ends.