Think before you speak! Everyone’s knows that. It’s obvious... and important. But even more so when you’re the managing director of a large company. But sometimes even the rich and powerful get it wrong.
Take the case of Barclays Bank chief executive Matt Barrett. During a government meeting, Barrett said that he wouldn’t personally use a Barclaycard because they were “too expensive”. With little concern for those suffering in the recession, Mark Owen-Lloyd, director for electricity company E.On, said that rising fuel costs “means more money for us”. And John Pluthero, the chairman of Cable & Wireless UK, sent a memo to staff which read, “Congratulations, we work for an underperforming business in a rubbish industry and it’s going to be hell for the next 12 months.”
One of the most recent cases took place during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill crisis. An explosion on an offshore drilling rig belonging to BP on 20th April 2010 left eleven rig workers dead and 17 others injured. And as a result of the explosion, thousands of gallons of crude oil began pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. At times, like this, it’s essential for a company to get its message right. But what should they say? “Apologise as quickly as you can and tell the world what you're doing to put things right," says Sharon Francis, chief executive of Media First, specialists in communications training.
Sounds simple, but the CEO of BP, Tony Hayward, had different ideas. First of all, Hayward tried to minimise the damage, claiming that the spill wouldn’t be a major problem because the gulf was “a very big ocean”. Whoops! Never try to belittle the impact of the disaster. But there was worse to come. He later said that hewanted the crisis to end so he “could have his life back”. Now that wasn’t the most sensitive of things to say, especially to the families of the 11 men who died when the well exploded. Hayward later apologised and said the remark had been “hurtful and thoughtless”.
So, what do the experts think? “BP’s communication over the oil spill has often been inexplicable and at times simply shocking,” Francis added. “You’d think that those in charge of one of the world’s biggest companies would know better than most that one stupid comment travels round the world in a nanosecond.”
So, if you’re a managing director of a big company, watch your words! And if you can’t, pay someone else who can!
Language Focus: Adjectives from verbs
Look at this extract from the article, “...we work for an underperforming business in a rubbish industry...” The writer has used an adjective (under performing) that has been created from a verb (to under perform). Complete the sentences with the correct adjectival form of the verbs in brackets.
1. The company is ___________ (undervalue).
2. Does he have any ___________ (distinguish) features?
3. Her work was ___________ (undermine) by the rest of the team.
4. I think there's a good level of ___________ (understand) between them.
English Exercise: Reading Comprehension
Read the article again and answer the questions
1. Why was Matt Barrett’s comment so surprising?
2. What made Mark Owen-Lloyd’s comment so inappropriate?
3. What was the problem with Tony Hayward’s first comment?
4. What was so insensitive about his second comment?