This article is about writing compliance policies that make sense, and voiding those that do not.
Did you ever see the Princess Bride, the Spielberg movie about a princess who has been kidnapped by three bad buys? There is a swashbuckling, dashing hero who sets out to rescue the princess. The kidnappers throw obstacles in front of our hero, but he overcomes each obstacle methodically and with great flair. The boss kidnapper describes each successful triumph by our hero as “inconceivable”. “It is inconceivable” he keeps repeating. Finally, one of the his fellow kidnappers tells the boss kidnapper: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
People relish using their own little language for their own little social or business circles. It’s insider lingo meant to exclude outsiders. I appreciate the desire talk in code, except often no one really has taken the time to confirm that the insiders are really understanding each other. Often people don’t understand each other but are embarrassed to say to. Further, when it comes to legal compliance, you shouldn’t have secret code. Inclusivity is the goal. You can’t follow orders if you don’t understand the order. Here I don’t just mean the legalese and technical jargon that suffocate that are suffocate communication. I also mean the business jargon.
Take “sanction,” for example. This is one of those rare words, maybe the only one there is, that has two opposite meanings. Sanction means permission and it also means penalty. In trade compliance, it often refers to embargoes. We have embargoes against Cuba and Iran, for example. You may hear a sentence that goes something like this:
“I cannot sanction that export shipment because we risk sanctions for violating US sanctions against Cuba.”
I know. Scary, right? The sentence may have its own internal logic, but it is unwieldy and repetitive. Here is how I would revise it:
“I don’t think we should export because our company might be penalized for violating the US embargo against Cuba.”
What do you think of this sentence?
“We need to be proactive by following these best practices and incentivize and leverage our core competency to establish metrics that will lay the groundwork for the company’s new paradigm.”
Do you know anyone who talks like that? Do you want to strangle them? They seem very smug, very proud. I don’t know why. They haven’t said anything, at least not anything worth paying attention to. Or, maybe that is exactly why they are proud. They managed to string together popular non-sense and threw it all out there in the middle of an important meeting, daring anyone to challenge the integrity of what they said. The challenge is almost never answered.
You need to be or find a brutal editor to make avoid the evils of modern business and legal jargon. Fortunately, there are a few detanglers out there, websites and books that help you remove the debilitating jargon. Some are free. I found this one. It’s called Unsuck-it.com. Not only does it reveal and let’s you cut through the awful jargon, but you get to submit your own entries and corrections.
Principal and a founding member of GRVR Attorneys.