Swenglish can be really bad to use

June 16, 2010

It takes a very long time to be really fluent in a language if not being a native. You might know most of the vocabulary – but that is not the same as knowing and using the correct expressions.

Today Mr. Carl-Henrik Svanberg, Chairman of BP and a native Swede, gave us a great example of just that with a surprisingly heavy Swedish accent. At his first public press meeting (about time!) after a meeting with President Obama, he birthed an expression that will be remembered for a long time: “BP cares about the small people”. Correct in Swedish but not when translating it word by word into English. He meant of course that BP cares about the ordinary people, but in the way he said it he almost insulted the people in the Gulf. BP later issued a statement from Svanberg, in which the chairman said, “I spoke clumsily this afternoon, and for that, I am very sorry”.

At CNN’s AC360 airing 10pm-12pm every night (now live from Louisiana) they just focused on  Mr. Svanberg’s slip in translation and showed by examples that the people of Louisiana are not small/little people but great people. 

Even CEO’s with great (so far) international reputation can obviously have some problems with  intercultural communication – at the worst possible moments. BP’s message did not get through when they so badly needed it. Lesson? Rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal!


BP’s lack of communication

June 3, 2010

During a crisis it’s more  important than ever to be open with what exactly how you take charge over the situation. In all the communication you have to show:

1) that you are in charge: you have analyzed the situation and know what is really going on,

2) feelings: that you care for those who are affected and

3) actions: that you are doing everything you can to solve the situation and the suffering, list the plan, all the activities and the results over and over again.

Well, BP has failed in so many ways. Not being able to show that they have control (1); what really happened and who is and will be responsible, how much oil that is really pouring out every minute and how to solve the situation.

They say they care (2), but they also say that the oil spill wont have any long-term impact on the environment, that they take care of the families of the victims but at the same time having lawyers trying to minimize the payments.

And over and over we get reports via media that they cannot see any major amount of people trying to stop the oil from reaching the shores (3) and outrage from the local people when trying to get some real help and very seldom any comments from BP at all.

Too little, too late is what we think – even if BP probably have done a lot that they haven’t had any credit for. BP has no trustworthiness anymore and this can cost them their future.

Now it’s the time to step up, get out in the local community and meet the people who are so upset. Try to work it out together with them – the objective is to get the local community spokespersons to say that they actually think BP is doing all they can do. In that process they can start to re-build their credibility again.