Image courtesy of ivanpw’s Flickr photostream.
“Buyer beware!” (or caveat emptor, if you want to use the original Latin). It’s a saying we all know well; a warning that whatever you’re about to buy could have a flaw. Literally, it tells us, “you get only what you pay for, nothing more nothing less.”
But these days, with the rise of online marketplaces such as eBay and craigslist, it’s more about “seller beware” than “buyer beware.” A few weeks ago I had first hand experience of why this is true. My husband has a very good camera lens he’s trying to sell online. Among the responses he received were some people who wanted to pay more than the asking price. They offered to pay him through PayPal. But, he had to ship the lens to an address that was not connected with their name.
Sound suspicious? It is. In fact, it’s a scam that’s quite widespread these days, where someone makes himself or herself untraceable by not giving you their real address or phone number. And once the person has whatever it is you are selling, you never actually get your money. In one case, he asked the person for his phone number so he could call him to verify his contact information. The email response was, “I am unable to call you because I am “deaf and dumb.” That sure beats “the dog ate my homework” in the excuses department!
Ultimately, scams are about using language as a trick, and using evasive communication to manipulate a trusting person. This happens not just in financial transactions, it also happens every day in business communication. And regardless of whether it’s about wanting to get something for free, or wanting to avoid assuming responsibility in the workplace, the red flags are similar as the following demonstrate.
Red flags of evasive communication
-Avoidance through vague language: When you receive an email message or have a phone conversation and the person was so indirect you come away thinking, “what exactly was that about, anyway?” you should seek clarification. There could be a variety of reasons when someone with whom you work isn’t direct; it’s not just about being manipulated. (But it may be, so beware!)
For example: suppose you are the boss and one of your employees is vague or evasive when communicating with you. It might be that the person feels intimidated by you and is afraid to state her/his opinion openly. On the other hand, if the person is someone who always tries to wriggle out of accepting responsibility, the vagueness is likely part of an ongoing avoidance. (See also: How To Make Yourself Understood)
-Bowling over with jargon: Overwhelming someone with jargon is a longtime tactic to put a recipient off balance. This type of behavior creates a power dynamic where the “over-user” of jargon is “in the know,” and the person who doesn’t understand it is “outside of the loop.” Like evasive language, your best response is seek clarification, and cut through the forest of the baffling terms. (See also: Business English: Annoying Jargon)
-Launching a charm offensive: One of the ways “con men” convince their unwitting suspects to buy or do something they really don’t want to do (like parting with large sums of money) is through what is sometimes called a “charm offensive.” Behavior such as this also happens in the workplace. A somewhat incompetent person may move up the career ladder because of her/his constant barrage of witty banter and charm. And if you’re on the receiving end of that charm offensive, you want to ask yourself, “What really does this person who is praising me lavishly to the skies really want? Am I just a pawn in her/his career strategy game?” Of course, it is possible that he/she is genuinely charming. In that case, you might want to ask if he or she would like to buy a really fine camera lens, offered at a discount.
If you’ve encountered any “evasive communicators” in your workplace, let me know in the comments section or email firstname.lastname@example.org.