I have recruited a sales person whose job is to represent our business to senior types in banks. He constantly uses the construct “we was”, as in: “We was hoping you’d recognise us as a sophisticated supplier.” He also uses a lot of jargon, which creates a poor impression. He peppers all his communications – spoken and written – with “piece” and “reach out” and “going forward” and “value added”. When I mentioned it, he said this was just the way he talked and, in any case, was normal usage and I shouldn’t worry about it. Should I?
Manager, male, 50
Yes, you should worry very much – not that your salesman can’t talk properly, but that he doesn’t even pretend to pay attention when you tell him off.
This reflects badly on one or other of you: either he is an intolerable upstart – as well as a murderer of language. Or else you are a liability as a manager. Not only do you hire people without having listened to what they say, you can’t get them to pay you even the most cursory compliment of appearing to listen to what you say.
As for the jargon and the dismal grammar, many readers of this column fondly believe that people who sell things should be able to express themselves clearly and elegantly. This is utter rot. Some of the very best salesmen talk the most awful drivel and have emerged from school without any flair for grammar. Think of
traders on market stalls and their signs “Avocado’s – 3 for £1”. Shoppers passing by don’t think: I’m not going to buy them because the apostrophe is misplaced.
The only reason for minding is if the jargon and weak grammar are at loggerheads with the image of your product, or if they make what he is saying hard to understand. The first could be the case if the product you are selling to these “senior types” is quite pukka, meaning that a barrow boy isn’t the right person to sell it.
As for the jargon, this matters even less. Most of the senior types I know in banks can’t utter a sentence without throwing in a couple of “reaching outs” or “pieces” and so will surely embrace your salesman as one of their own kind.
My graver worry is not about the “we was” or the “reaching out”. It is the fact that this man can’t express himself comprehensibly at all. Did he really say: “We was hoping you’d recognise us as a sophisticated supplier”? Ignoring the off-putting Uriah Heepishness of this sentence, the real stumbling block is “sophisticated supplier”. What on earth is that?