Coercion With a Smile
Within corporate culture and government agency PR,
Orwellian doublespeak has become a common way
of disguising coercion. Can a “benefit” be beneficial if it’s
compulsory? Does an “incentive” do any good if it’s actually
Employees may not be able to refuse the “offer” of overtime,
or the “aid” of close monitoring of every small action. The
unemployed have mandatory “assistance” and “incentives”, including
termination of their payments if they don’t conduct their
jobseeking in exactly the prescribed way.
Many long-standing compulsory benefits (eg free compulsory
education and the TV licence) have a benign appearance, and
are largely accepted and unquestioned. This must indicate,
to those who use doublespeak, that it’s a highly effective
public relations strategy.
“Giving you the opportunity”
Marketing and PR people are aware of the western cultural
bias towards self-determination (ie individualist
self-control). They know we’re more likely to yield to their
persuasions if we believe we’re personally in control
and not being coerced when we sense coercion we respond
with resentment and resistance. Corporations and government
thus make frequent use of self-determining words (eg
opportunity, incentive and challenge)
as tools of resentment management.
The technique is to let you believe you have a free choice
when, in fact, all you have is a dilemma (a “free choice”
implies at least one favourable option; a dilemma means each
option is unfavourable). The language of the typical workplace
is saturated with self-determining words, which hide
coercion by disguising dilemmas as choices. In such environments,
employees may actually come to believe they are performing
repetitive, mindless tasks eight hours a day, out of personal
choice, rather than economic dilemma.
“take on the challenge” means,
in a work context:
Resentment management is a subset of damage limitation.
Damage limitation plays a massive role in advertising
many large organisations use commercials, not for selling
products, but for deflecting some of the hostility, suspicion
and anxiety the public feels towards them. For example, surveys
continually show that people are hostile towards banks and
other financial institutions. Nice, friendly family
adverts are used to counteract this tendency, often with no
attempt to sell any specific services or products.