Posts tagged ‘conversation’

November 18, 2010

Of mountains and molehills

A mole is a small animal digging tunnels underground and in the process piling up a small amount of soil, the molehill.

Making a mountain (or here rather a hill) out of a molehill, pic:

Somebody who makes a mountain out of a molehill is somebody who greatly exaggerates the severity of a  situation, making problems sound bigger than they are and/or dwell on a problem after it no longer is a problem.

It is a common and commonly understood expression which traces its roots back to ancient Greece where the the following phrase was used” make an elephant out of a fly”  which means the exact same thing.  That expression in a pretty literal translation (“aus einer Muecke einen Elefanten machen”) is still used in German to express the same concept.

Here is an example:

“My colleague Jenny is very mean, the hates me and is secretly plotting to get me fired.  The other day I saw her glancing at me and then walking into the boss’ office with an evil smile.”

“Really, I think you are making a mountain out of a molehill, she probably just accidentally looked in your direction on her way to the boss’ office.

November 9, 2010

Word confusion, part 2

This is a personnel entrance, not a personal one. Pic: © Bryan Ooi |

This is a pair of words that I still have to think about sometimes after 13 years in the US: personal and personnel.  They are quite distinct in their meaning but sound a lot alike which makes things more difficult.  Even if I have no problem to pick the right one I am never quite sure whether it is personnel or personell – but that is a different problem.

Here is what those two words mean:

Personal: or pertaining to a single person, or belonging to a person in some way, examples are, personal space, personal trainer, personal remarks, personal belongings.

Personnel: a number of people employed by or active in an organization, business, or service.  Personnel also refers to the department within an organization which deals with its human resources.  Examples are:   “Mary is in charge of personnel issues.”, “They’ve reduced the number of personnel working on the project.”

November 3, 2010

Business Speak, part 1

As everywhere people in organizations tend to make up expressions and terms in order to sound more important and serious.  In America, and here I am especially referring to Silicon Valley high tech companies – have pushed this habit to new heights.  Many perfectly fine, accurate words have been replaced by big phrases which are a lot of air and little substance.  A few examples:

If I wanted somebody’s input or feedback I used to say “I’ll talk to her” now one says “I will reach out to her”.

Employee 1: “We should meet tomorrow and discuss details.  We also need to include Anne, George, and Freddie in this meeting.”

Employee 2: “I will reach out to them and see when they are available.”

The kimono still closed! © Brenda Bailey |

Before, when a decision or an agreement was reached or one left a meeting with a bunch of task lists one went and informed those, who weren’t in on the decision or the meeting.  Now however that seems a tad trivial, and therefore one doesn’t merely inform or talk, no one socializes an idea.

Boss: “okay, so we move the deadline forward by three weeks.  Please go and socialize this plan with the teams.”

In a world of political correctness and formulaic business speak there comes a time when one needs to speak openly and frankly.  Instead of having a meeting, like in the olden days, these days one has “open kimono sessions”.  The term is self-explanatory: all the facts get laid out and one has an honest discussion.

October 24, 2010

Casual Conversation

Americans, especially Californians  can be very casual people as many Europeans – showing up in suit and tie to a meeting in Silicon Valley and met a CEO in jeans and shirts – can attest to.  There is also plenty of casual conversation in business settings, e.g. before the meeting, during a business lunch/dinner, etc.  There are, however, unwritten rules to keep in mind for such conversations.  Importantly, certain topics are completely off-limits and others are touchy and should be avoided.  Others are perfectly safe and those are the ones you should stick with.

Business is more casual in California, © Daniel Sroga |

Topics that should be avoided under all circumstances are anything off-color (meaning with even the slightest sexual connotation) and religion.  The latter I mean in the broadest possible sense.  With so many different religious beliefs in this country you are likely to offend somebody by making a offhanded remark about God, the afterlife, reincarnation,  sin, redemption, religious ceremonies, even evolution.  Many social issues, e.g. abortion or  gay marriage, have religious undertones and it  is best to stay a mile away from those topics even if you can’t think of anything else to say.  It is better to be remembered as dull than offensive.

Politics is almost as touchy as religion, and you want to be very careful  especially with people you don’t know very well.  If you must bring up politics, be positive and high-level and refrain from harsh criticism.

“Many Europeans are very taken by your president” is a good thing to say whether you agree or not.

“Most Europeans think American right wing politicians are completely crazy” is not such a great thing to say, whether you agree or not.

Safe topics: probably the same as everywhere: the weather, family, the beauty of the place you are visiting “California is simply stunning.  What do you recommend in do on my day off in this area?”, sports, if you are so inclined, your hobbies, popular culture, recent trips you taken to wonderful places “Next time you are in Europe you should visit Lake Como.  There is a reason why George Clooney lives there.”

Finally, smile a lot, keep the conversation lighthearted, don’t force your points.