Doing it all wrong

    Ian McMaster
    Von Ian McMaster


    A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending a birthday party in the beautiful old Roman city of York in northern England.

    The birthday boy was Nick Brieger, a former director of the training organization York Associates. Along with fellowMit-fellow former director Jeremy Comfort, Nick was a pioneer in the development of business English coursebooks in the 1980s and 1990s.

    Among their titles were Early Business Contacts, Business Contacts, and Secretarial Contacts. Nick also wrote on legal English, technical English, business writing and much more, including a handbook on teaching business English.

    Among the other guests at Nick’s party was Derek Utley, another former partner at York Associates. Derek made a most amusing speech about Nick, which started with him saying that “he wasn’t really the right person to give this talkVortrag; hier: Redetalk” and that “he didn’t really know much about the subject”.

    Experienced business English teachers — and there were many present — would have recognized these comments instantlysofortinstantly as a reference to a York Associates videocassette on presentations that Derek and Jeremy Comfort produced in the early 1990s. In the videos, Derek first demonstrates the wrong way to do things — such as introducing your talk with comments like those above — before going on to show the right way.

    Derek’s acting was as brilliantgroßartig, genialbrilliant as it was hilariouslustig, urkomischhilarious. And his “wrong way” clips were, ironically, much more memorable than the ones showing what you should do. (The video was later to rerelease sth.etw. erneut herausbringenrereleased by Oxford University Press — but without Derek’s acting — under the title Effective Presentations, part of what became affectionately known as the “effing series” on business communication series.)

    If you keep telling people something is a problem, soon they’ll believe you

    I was reminded of Derek’s “wrong way” approachVorgehensweise, Methodeapproach this past weekend while following the elections for the Bavarian parliament, in which I could vote for the first time. The ruling conservative party, the CSU, suffered dramatic losses, seeing their share oft he voteStimmenanteilshare of the vote fall from 47.7 per cent in 2013 to just 37.2 per cent — and losing their overall overall majorityhier: absolute Mehrheitmajority. The CSU now has to rule in a coalition, normal in most parts of Germany, but rare in Bavaria.

    How could a ruling party suffer such losses at a time when Bavaria’s economy is booming and in a state of full employment? My (half-serious) suspicionVerdacht, Vermutungsuspicion is that they spent too much time watching Derek’s “wrong way” videos and decided to, well, do everything wrong.

    Instead of focusing on the success stories in Bavaria, the CSU has concentrated its messages over the past three years on the one issueThema, Problemissue that some — but far from all — people in Bavaria see as a problem: the high numbers of asylum seekers entering Germany. The CSU to bang on sth.auf etw. herumhauenbanged on non-stop about this issue — and to lurch (to the right)(nach rechts) schlingernlurched to the right with its rhetoric in an attempt to to counter sb.jmdm. kontern, entgegentretencounter the far-rightrechtsextremfar-right, anti-immigration party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

    The strategy failed completely. Voters to desert sb.jmdn. verlassendeserted the CSU in drovesin Scharenin droves, not only for the AfD, but also for the Green Party and the conservative Free Voters party, a “CSU-light” party that is strong in rural areas.

    The CSU’s defeat was as welcome as it was unnecessary. The party has long been unbearablyunerträglichunbearably smugselbstgefälligsmug, condescendingherablassendcondescending and arrogant, to equate oneself with sth.sich mit etw. gleichsetzenequating itself with the state of Bavaria, the sort of party absolutism that has no place in modern democracies.

    The CSU’s fate also has a number of important lessons for managers in business:

    • Focus your message on your achievementLeistung, Erfolgachievements, not your failures. Apart from its economic success, the CSU could have to emphasize sth.etw. hervorhebenemphasized how well Bavaria has managed the flow of asylum seekers. The Bavarian Green Party, with its positive approach to immigration and refugeeFlüchtlingrefugees — and to many other topicThematopicsto hoover sth.etw. saugen; hier: für sich gewinnenhoovered up tens of thousands of votes.
    • Don’t focus on problems that you can’t solve. The CSU lost credibilityGlaubwürdigkeitcredibility because at a federal level, it couldn’t significantly influence immigration or refugee policy, despite its strong rhetoric. Some voters therefore went for the even stronger (though even more ineffective) rhetoric of the AfD.
    • The more you bang on about something being a problem, the more people will to conceive sth. as sth.etw. als etw. verstehenconceive it to be one — and hold you responsible for it if you’re in the to be in the top seatden Spitzenplatz einnehmen; hier auch: an der Spitze stehentop seat.

    In other words, focus on doing things the right way, not the wrong way.

    In his blog, Ian McMaster has been commenting on global business issues since 2002. For older entries, see the blog archive on our former website.