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As defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, oxymorons are:

“a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (as cruel kindness); broadly : something (as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements.”

Corporations are full of oxymorons. Spotting them is not easy sometimes. There’s a reason for that: they are part of a Corporation’s way of communicating with it’s employees, a vehicle and they are there for a reason.

They might be written and hanged up in walls or sometimes they are just spoken out loud or just implied. The more obvious they become, the more specific they are, and the less apparent or legible, the broader.

This is a first attempt to understand and explain them I’ve separated in two categories: Management oxymorons and Company oxymorons.

The Management oxymorons

These are usually obvious and most likely part of the “Management speech” all managers have in any given Company. They are trained to use them and the objective is simple: to provide a more open approach to specific tasks, so to motivate creativity, and problem solving.

These oxymorons are either written or repeated constantly, and they operate as simple devices that allow managers to “go back to basics” (which is usually a cliché depicting a a simple situation: things are not working, let’s start from scratch again). Here’s a few examples I’ve seen a lot:

Old news. I’ve seen this one used when referring to those things a specific employee or team was successful at but it no longer matters. It’s more commonly heard or read in the first days of any new Fiscal Year.

Among the first. Related to Top Performance. Arguably, it may not be an oxymoron if we consider “first” in its plural form but I’m certain you’ve heard this one a lot too. A similar example would be “over-achieving”.

Accurate forecast. A favorite of all sales managers (like me). A “forecast” is the result of the combination / calculation of any given information in order to predict the likelihood of a result or an event and as much as we try, there’s always a margin for error.

Constructive criticism. Criticism is by definition the act of judgment. It doesn’t need to be good or bad, it just is. This oxymoron evolved into a broader, more accurate term: Feedback, which negates the previous form actually, avoiding any confusion.

The Company Oxymorons

These are less obvious and almost never written. They are implied though and you might hear or witness them in how Top Executives of your Company speak, the words they use and even how they act.

They are meant to help setting important values, building a culture or simply a new team or one that needs to be re-built. The fact that they are not obvious does not mean they are not there. Here’s a few examples:

Failed Success. Or anything related to the fact that sometimes in order to achieve success you must fail over, and over. You will hear this one after a bad fiscal quarter or year, or after a failed product launch. The objective of this oxymoron or any of it forms is to prevent an impact on the workforce morale.

Expecting the unexpected. Highly used to motivate teams to do a couple of things: prepare and plan accordingly. A favorite of Sales and Operations leaders as it entails using existing information to plan and execute. It is a clear example of how an oxymoron can become a powerful message driver.

Behaving like owners. As we’re discussing Corporations here and not Cooperatives, we assume that only stake-holders own the Company, so unless you actually do hold some stocks, you are just an employee. This oxymoron is used to transmit a sense of ownership and cohesion among the ranks and it’s designed mostly to secure a self-managed sense of expenses and ethics.

Servant leadership. A very clever and modern oxymoron, in vogue these days. It is used to communicate, in a very transparent way a simple yet profound fact: a Leader’s function is no longer to give orders or point directions. They are meant to help employees as the paradigm changed from “productivity” to “wellness” when discussing Top Priorities of any Corporation in regards to their workforces.

These are only examples I’ve found and sometimes used. Some are really simple, some are complex. Some I reckon, might not be oxymorons themselves but the fact still stands that large organizations need them and use them all the time.

Have you found any yet?

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