When I was living in London in the 1980s, I had a good Australian friend whose approach to parenting I found both interesting and amusing. When his little boy was being too noisy, the father would simply say: "Lower profile, son! Lower profile!"
This is also excellent advice for business people as they travel the globe. Companies are often attuned to the dangers of sensitive data being stolen, lost, or seen on laptops by complete strangers. But I wonder how many have a policy on not talking about your business in public in a loud voice.
Most of us speak more loudly than we think when we are having private conversations in public. I am also guilty of this, as I discovered last week when I was on a tram in Munich. I was telling a friend about a conversation I had had with my doctor that morning, when I suddenly noticed lots of passengers looking at me. Whoops!
Shortly afterwards, I overhead a fascinating business conversation as I was having a quick bite to eat at Munich railway station before catching a train to Berlin to give a talk about job interviews at the Expolingua trade fair.
The man on the same table as me clearly didn't realize that I was English and understood every word of his side of the phone conversation. Rule of thumb: if you are a business person speaking English (or any other language) anywhere in the world, assume that people might understand you.
During his conversation, the man used the following terms, among many others: Oracle, SAP, Saudi Arabia, licences, discount, deal, customer support. You could write a short story based on the terms I heard – or, if you were a competitor and understood the business, you could work out what was going on.
The man also said the following sentence, which is an excellent example of modern business usage/jargon/bullshit (delete according to taste): "We should try to incentivize her to do the deal." In other words, persuade or encourage her, whoever she was, by providing her with the right incentives (see also here).
On my train ride to Berlin, and even in my hotel there, I overheard many more business conversations. Some were in German, some in English. But all were at a far higher volume that the speakers probably imagined. And they contained all sorts of details of deals, appointments and plans. Interestingly, though possibly coincidentally, all these conversations were by men.
I am not the first person to have discovered this "loud voice syndrome" and its dangers for business. For example, you'll find some excellent tips here about what to do, and not do, while talking on a mobile phone.
I was genuinely shocked, however, by how liberal business people seem to be with their sensitive information. They really should listen to my Australian friend's advice: "Lower profile, mate! Lower profile!"
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