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The 69 Words GM Employees Can Never Say 373

bizwriter (1064470) writes "General Motors put together its take on a George Carlin list of words you can't say. Engineering employees were shown 69 words and phrases that were not to be used in emails, presentations, or memos. They include: defect, defective, safety, safety related, dangerous, bad, and critical. You know, words that the average person, in the context of the millions of cars that GM has recalled, might understand as indicative of underlying problems at the company. Oh, terribly sorry, 'problem' was on the list as well."
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The 69 Words GM Employees Can Never Say

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  • Note to myself: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @10:11AM (#47045865)
    Never buy a car from GM. A company that practices this type of policy can not have my confidence in any way.
  • by johnjaydk ( 584895 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @10:19AM (#47045945)

    You get a Challenger disaster.

    In my experience, You have to use exactly these words in order to get management to take problems serious. Turns out it was because they put management in a legal bind.

    Any engineer who follows GM's edict should be flogged. Bad stuff happens because good men do nothing.

  • Re:Note to myself: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rob the Bold ( 788862 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @10:25AM (#47046017)

    Never buy a car from GM. A company that practices this type of policy can not have my confidence in any way.

    All you know from TFA is that GM has a list. What you don't know is whether other automakers -- or manufacturers in general -- have similar lists. Given that all companies of any size have lawyers whose job it is to reduce potential legal liability, I'd have to assume that GM is not alone in having such a policy.

  • Re:Note to myself: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @10:35AM (#47046121)
    Spoke a manager from GM :-). I prefer companies that are open about their problems than companies that try to hide problems with "disguised words".
  • Re:Corporate speak (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JazzLad ( 935151 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @10:36AM (#47046137) Homepage Journal
    That's ok, here most of the moneys go to the lawyers anyway.
  • It's the lawyers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LarryWMSN ( 1104101 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @10:47AM (#47046259)
    If you've ever been deposed as part of a lawsuit, the lawyer will go through every email and key on those particular words to present them is the worst possible light. I had to go through this once and spent three days, basically, justifying every word I used. Now when a customer comes to me and says they have a problem or something is not working, I will ask, "what behavior are you expecting to see and what are you seeing?" When we resolve the "problem", we simply say they should see the expected behavior now and please get back to us if they don't. It sucks but that's the reality.

    GM definitely knew they had problems and didn't fix them, but I'm sure there were many emails that were unrelated to their intentional disregard to the known problems that they had to defend along the way. Every little sentence or word that someone has to justify means more time with the lawyers racking up fees. You can't skirt around real problems with the change in words, but it makes it harder for the lawyers to bring in unrelated or insignificant facts into the mix.
  • Re:Note to myself: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @10:47AM (#47046263)
    Sure, "cataclysmic" doesn't belong in an engineering email, but "always", "never", "critical", "serious", "safety", "safety-related", "dangerous" and (best of all, IMO) "problem"? That isn't engineers avoiding hyperbole, that's lawyers avoiding the truth.
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @10:55AM (#47046339)

    Playing devils advocate here

    However the engineer, is often overly cautious, to the extreme, and sometimes have a fit if they don't get there way, and having engineers over exaggerating to get their point across isn't unheard of.

    The words seem to be "Power Words" terms that get people to agree without only on an emotional basis. So an engineer can use them to get his way, without really backing himself up. And if his idea gets rejected and the media gets their hands on the email, there is a huge PR problem, where the email is taken out of contexts.

    Lets just say this discussion was about the vanity mirror, the engineer wants it to be bolted on, vs. a plastic clip. His design is superior because the bolts will last longer. However other engineers find the plastic clip is good enough, and looks better. The engineer who proposes the bolts may fill a bit annoyed that they went with an other design. So he may complain to protest his point, and over emphasize the risks of the plastic clips, and toss in a few of those power words. To try to get his way. Then a few years down the line, there is an unrelated problem with the car, and there is a law suit. They find emails from an engineer discussing doom and gloom. Now the media will have a field day with that. Even though it was unrelated.

  • Re:Corporate speak (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @10:58AM (#47046369)

    Our legal system isn't "silly". It's based on a different set of beliefs about the relationship between the individual and the State than yours is. You're able to have "faith" in your State because your population is most likely more homogeneous than that of the USA -- just like most people in the USA have more faith in their state governments than they have in their national government.

    "Avoiding certain words", DOESN'T make sense, because it is STRONG internal evidence that you've got a MAJOR issue you're ignoring. If you have to start "circling the wagons" to keep engineers from SPEAKING THE TRUTH, then you should have been dealing SIGNIFICANTLY more aggressively with the problems. This is a major management failure at GM, and every middle manager that had ANYTHING to do with the cover-up should be summarily dismissed and made an example of.

  • Re:Corporate speak (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @11:11AM (#47046499)

    You're able to have "faith" in your State because your population is most likely more homogeneous than that of the USA

    This is the 21st century, there is no more 'homogeneous' populations. And that's a good thing. It would be even better if fucking cunts like you would get their heads out of their asses and stopped with the groupthinking.

  • Re:Note to myself: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @11:13AM (#47046527)

    They also have some fantastic engines. The down side is everything else.

    Fantastic engines? Compared to what? Ford Escorts or a 90s Hyundai? Fantastic engines would be those 4-cylinder Toyota, Subaru or Honda engines that run efficiently for 200K miles, or diesel engines from mercedes or volvo that can go 500K. Not some 70s style inefficient powerplant that reliably falls apart pre 100K in some way and requires half a rebuild at a minimum, provided the rest of the car is still functioning.

    I've owned and driven quite a few cars into the high mileage territory (i.e. ~200K) and the 3 domestics I had didn't make it to 80K without significant trouble. To be fair, the absolute worst was a Renault, needing significant engine/transmission work at 50K. I currently have 2 that are about to cross 100K, one will need a valve cover gasket replacement when the spark plugs are done as a non-standard maintenance piece. I suspect both of these will cross 200K without a problem. Neither is domestic. At this point, I'd need to see a reliably reported $0 maintenance cost over 100K miles domestic at least 20% cheaper than an import's price for an equivalent vehicle before I'd even consider it. That means all maintenance covered for 100K miles, except tires, and maybe brakes, although several imports cover the later also for 40-50K.

  • by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @11:16AM (#47046547)
    "Synergies"? Nope.
    "Paradigm"? Absent.
    "Holistic approach"? No.
    Dude, there isn't a "proactive" in there anywhere.

    Now, if you'd have said this was a press release from Pyongyang, I'd have agreed with you.
  • by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @11:21AM (#47046587) Homepage

    Please explain how one gets from broken plastic clips on a vanity mirror to "rolling sarcophagus" in a way that wouldn't make any other engineer's (let along lawyer's) eyes roll.

    Yes, engineers can become short-sighted, over-exaggerate and sometimes use immoderate language, but in general, I think you'd find less of that in engineering ranks than in any other department in the company.

  • Re:Corporate speak (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Linzer ( 753270 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @11:50AM (#47046877)

    Having lived on both shores of the Atlantic, I very much believe that both systems would have a lot to learn from each other.

    That is, if there was a substantial discussion instead of all the name-calling.

    I know, this is slashdot, but in real life it's not that much better.

  • Re:Corporate speak (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @11:54AM (#47046933)

    > Let me know when you figure out what "free speech" is,
    Good idea, then we can tell you all about privacy as well,

  • As much as I'd like to see engineers speaking freely about problems, the consequences of doing so can be catastrophic when they don't know what they are doing.

    This should not be so. The law as it currently stands promotes thes kinds of irrational, destructive practices and behaviours. We need laws that punish engineers who obfuscate, and which protect engineers who speak openly and honestly.

    The law is a tool which can shape the morals and behaviour of human beings. At some point in the last 30 years, the West has completely forgotten that the law is a tool for shaping public ethics and morality, and has instead regarded it as a pen an paper RPG which can be gamed, min-maxed, and generally ruined in spirit by twisting the meaning of its letters. The degeneracy of our insitutions, private and public, has its roots in the degeneracy of the courts and legal professions and their practices.

  • Re:Corporate speak (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Lightning McQueen ( 3342905 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @12:41PM (#47047513)
    A sensible response! But I'm not giving up my U.S. Constitution. Although there seems to be a large mass of people living here / moving here that feel the need to change it. I say to them: Go start your own country if you think you have all the answers! Quit trying to change mine!
  • by WheezyJoe ( 1168567 ) <fegg AT excite DOT com> on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @01:33PM (#47048097)

    Lawyer speak. They are trying to make it difficult for investigators to find incriminating or "smoking gun" evidence through a word-search on their electronic documents (such as when they are forced to hand them over on discovery or under subpoena, or else leaked by a whistleblower or hacker).

  • by Belial6 ( 794905 ) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @02:16PM (#47048643)
    Yep, although if I was on a jury, I would see that list as evidence GM had premeditated any deaths caused be safety problems as well premeditated hiding evidence from the court.

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