Office speak: The official translation guide

I mentioned in my previous article that I have dabbled in both the private and public sectors in Rwanda at various moments of my life.

While I am not exactly close to qualifying for my pension just yet, I believe I have seen enough to draw some conclusions about the workplace culture in both sectors.

And the truth of the matter is that there is a surprising amount of similarities between the two- at times, it’s difficult to tell them apart.

For one thing, the language a certain corporate speaks takes hold in both workplace environments and you tend to read the same phrases over and over again when workers communicate via email.

E-mail communication is a better gauge of workplace lingo because people will often want to put things on the record and find the right balance between diplomatic talk and frank discussion.

It’s quite a difficult balance to get right, which is one of the things that make this kind of communication quite fascinating.

These expressions aren’t unique to workplaces in Rwanda of course. Indeed one of the fascinating elements about this language is how global it has become albeit with some differences depending on the region you are in.

Below is your helpful translation for office-speak (with a focus on email communication):

• “As per my previous email”: Translation-“When I sent this email two weeks ago, I was hoping for a quicker response than this. Since we have made no headway, this is my passive aggressive way of letting you know that you are holding up our progress.”

• “Thanks for the reminder. We are still in the process of reviewing the document…”: Translation- “Thanks for reminding me about this file since I had completely forgotten it exists.”

• “Please follow up with my colleague…” Translation- “This isn’t my problem and I have no idea how I ended up on this email chain. Would it be too much to ask you to remove me from all further communication?”

• “The meeting will start promptly at 8.am”: Translation- “Please, please try and make it on time for once. At the very least, please arrive at 8.30.”

• “We will communicate the way forward at a later date” Translation- “We haven’t figured this out yet but we can’t admit that with so many people in copy.”

• “Please acknowledge receipt of this email” Translation- “You might deny receiving this email in the future so let’s just spare ourselves from that difficult discussion. I even made sure I copied your supervisor this time”

• “This is a polite reminder…” Translation- see ‘as per my previous email’ above.

• “We are moving towards a solution-oriented approach…” Translation: “We are doing exactly what we were doing before, but we have a really cool way of rebranding it this time.”

• “I’m out of office with limited access to emails..” Translation: I’m not on the kind of holiday where I check my emails- I’m almost certainly sipping cocktails by the beach. The urgency of your emails are irrelevant to me at this point. I am beyond such petty earthly matters at this moment in time”

• “We need to liaise with other stakeholders” Translation: “We need to spread the blame around, and we need to do it fast. Please send me as many email addresses as you can”

• “Let’s leverage our synergies” Translation- “Let’s have more meetings and make sure we take minutes this time.”

• “We need to look at this strategically”: Translation- “I think if we really look at this issue critically, we can generate a minimum of 3 detailed memos.”

• “This will be a quick meeting”: Translation- “I’m feeling extraordinarily optimistic today”

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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