Politicians, Bureaucrats and Academics


When someone hears the word “nerd,  they often think of technology experts. Of course, while that can be accurate, I’ve long held that we are all nerds about something.

If you are looking at groups of people who create a culture of confusing or meaningless communication, I think that you can find great examples from politicians, bureaucrats and academics.

A reason to consider these groups is because they accent behavior we all are guilty of doing, just not in such an obvious and blatant manner. Naturally, not everyone in these groups is an ineffective communicator.  And not all of their ineffective communication is all their fault. In many cases, we (society) have trained them to be bad communicators.

Let’s take politicians for example. While the public claims to hate personal attack ads during campaigns, most people do little to educate themselves about the candidates. Any candidate who has a strong stand on a position will draw supporters… and detractors. The more controversial the issues, the stronger the divide. Election after election has shown that a frequently successful formula for success is to avoid controversial positions and attack the opponent. To avoid controversy, the politician picks safe topics in vague terms or is even less clear on the unsafe topics. In other words, talk a lot but say little that is meaningful.

My experience and very personal opinion is that most, but admittedly not all, bureaucrats function to perpetuate the bureaucracy. This may be in government or business. A prime mission is to protect and grow the bureaucracy. If the job is hard, making it look even harder and more complex protects the organization or department. This often requires inappropriately complex documents, unclear lines of authority, repeated justifications and inflated boasts of accomplishments. While sometimes I’ve heard the media report of failed expensive projects, I can’t recall a bureaucracy that ever made such a failure obvious.  Successes are noted, failures are ignored and hidden… or, even better, claimed as successes.

My admittedly limited experience with academics is they fall into three groups. One group has a foot in the practical application side of their business. They speak in terms laymen in their field understand and relate. The second group speaks primarily in big, general concepts and ideas. Not much detail to use in a practical manner but ideas and beliefs that are the potential basis for details in the future. The third group is the super expert, using precise and highly detailed language that is only really understood by others of this group. Each group is appropriate and can be valuable, however, their effectiveness diminishes outside their core group.

I want to clarify that when I talk about people as academics, I am not necessarily talking exclusively about educators. They may be the same but not always, as I see academics as subject matter experts that may not necessarily teach.

My purpose here is not to attack the politicians, bureaucrats and academics. It is to point out groups that, as a group, have a chosen communication method that is not really the skills that most people need. If you can see what not to do by watching these groups interact with the public, you can watch for this behavior in yourself and avoid it.

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About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.