Writers obsess about word choice.

No, that isn’t precisely true: Writers pay attention to word choice.

No again. That’s a generalization. “Writers” is too big a group to generalize from. It’s wordsmiths I’m writing about, and not all wordsmiths – just the best ones.

Word maestros choose words the way a cuisinier chooses spices.

Does this mean that if you aren’t a professional writer then it’s okay to rely on “thing” as a general-purpose noun, to be hauled out in place of the word that means what you’re trying to talk about?

In a word, no.

Nor is precision the only issue at stake when you decide how much you want to care if you’ve chosen the optimal term. How you say what you say affects you, just as much as it conveys meaning to those you’re speaking to.

There was, for example, the colleague who, in a conversation about office politics, referred to a mutual acquaintance as his “enemy.”

Enemy. Out of every word available to him in his lexicographic warehouse … opponent, adversary, rival, antagonist … he chose the most extreme item in his inventory.

So far as intentions are concerned, I’m confident my associate was merely too lazy to select a less extreme alternative. He wasn’t a bad person.

But we all know what the road to hell is paved with. And calling someone an enemy legitimizes forms of political weaponry more vicious and unsavory than what labeling them your “rival” would suggest are acceptable.

Calling them your enemy, that is, makes them deserve to be your victim.

In a business setting, if you hear anyone among your direct or indirect reports refer to anyone as their enemy, take the opportunity to school them in how inappropriate it is, not to mention organizationally damaging.

That’s different from hearing expressions of rivalry, something that can, pointed in a productive direction, be useful. Do too much to suppress feelings of rivalry and you’ll find that you’ve discouraged smart people from pointing out the flaws in unfortunate ideas, or from suggesting potentially superior alternatives.

Sure, I know you’re busy. And yes, I understand that attending to word choice slows you down.

But allow me to suggest a reframing that might change your attitude about such matters: Choosing the right superlative instead of mindlessly typing “g-r-e-a-t,” … or on the other end of the semantic continuum, finding a term of disparagement more potent than the ever-present “b-a-d” … can be fun.

I might almost suggest that as hobbies go, this one is outstanding.

Bob’s last word: In our national dialog (multilog?) I’ve read lots of opinion pieces that try to explain how it’s all become so toxic and what to do about it.

One I haven’t run across is lazy word choice.

Once upon a time, Grover Norquist famously introduced the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. It had an outsized impact on fiscal policy.

So in that vein, might I suggest some enterprising reader should create the Vocabulary Protection Pledge? Sample phrasing: “Whenever I’m speaking where anyone might hear, I will carefully choose only the most precise words when explaining my ideas.”

It might not stop Empty Green from blathering about Jewish Space Lasers, but as is the case with chicken soup to treat assorted maladies, it wouldn’t hurt.

And anyway, if Jews really did have space lasers, I know whose posterior would be first in line to get zapped.

Bob’s bragging rights: In case you missed the news last week, I’m proud to tell you my long-suffering CIO.com editor, Jason Snyder and I have been awarded a Silver Tabbie award from Trade Association Business Publications International, for my monthly feature, the CIO Survival Guide. Regarding the award, they say, “This blog scores highly for the consistent addressing of the readers’ challenges, backed by insightful examples and application to current events.“

Speaking of which, this week on the (ahem) award-winning CIO Survival Guide: “The CIO’s fatal flaw: Too much leadership, not enough management.” Its point: Compared to management, leadership is what has the mystique. But mystique isn’t what gets work out the door.

You aren’t paid what you’re worth. You’re paid what you can negotiate.

Or so said the in-flight-magazine ad for a negotiation class I read a couple of decades ago.

It’s a bit o’ wisdom that’s correct, but while it might be a useful insight for your average job candidate trying to maximize their salary, it provides little help for a payroll analyst assigned to draft the company’s compensation framework.

Last week’s missive provided just such a framework. Within it, the annual raise … and by extension, salaries or hourly pay rates … are determined by the labor marketplace. The law of supply and demand for a given job category dictates its median pay.

This way of looking at compensation is useful in large part because of its objectivity. It delivers an outcome where an employee has no financial incentive to leave for greener pastures, while their employer has no financial incentive to replace them with a more economical supplier of effort.

It is, if I say so myself, both complete and pragmatic, which, if you have to create a corporate compensation framework, are major advantages.

They aren’t, however, satisfying if you’re an employee and think you’re underpaid. Quite the opposite – if you’re an employee and think you’re underpaid it’s probably because you look at the value you create by doing your job well, and figure you deserve to see more of that value reflected in your paycheck.

Which leads to Compensation Rule #1: If you want to be paid for the value you deliver, you need a way to objectively demonstrate the value you deliver. If you’re in Sales you can do this. Interestingly enough, if you’re in Sales you probably are paid for the value you deliver. Likewise Product Development. If those aren’t you you’ll have to use your ingenuity.

If there’s a Compensation Rule #1 there must be …

Compensation Rule #2: You aren’t paid what you’re worth. You’re paid the lifestyle company management thinks is appropriate for the work you do. In the heads of company management there’s a rough-and-ready translation of job titles to lifestyles.

So if you’re, say, a Senior Developer you can be sure the CFO (for example) has a mental image of what size home you should be living in, in what location, what model and age car you should be in a position to drive, and so on.

It’s a nicer home and in a better neighborhood than an Administrative Assistant but not so nice, nor in as nice a neighborhood, as your manager.

Good things come in threes, and so there is, inevitably …

Compensation Rule #3: In addition to your lifestyle, and parallel to the official org chart, your place of employment has a pecking order based on the jobs and titles of its employees. From this perspective you’re paid based on the social stratum company management thinks a person with your job belongs to.

As a general rule, managers figure they’re the social superiors of the employees who report to them, just as their managers are their social superiors. And so on. Especially in management, an employee’s perceived social stratum frames the compensation the company’s executives figure they’re worth.

Bob’s last word: Disappointed? Think compensation should be more of a science?

Be happy. In the best companies, it might not be a science, but it just might make it to art.

Which just might give you more wiggle room to negotiate than you’d have if it was a science.

Bob’s sales pitch: As we enter KJR’s home stretch you’re running out of chances to add your ManagementSpeak to the repository. So now’s the time to stop procrastinating and send in your favorite “What managers say and what they really mean.”

On CIO.com’s CIO Survival Guide:The ‘IT Business Office’: Doing IT’s admin work right.

What it’s about is establishing an organizational home for all of IT’s administrivia. It’s about the difference between running IT like a business (bad idea) and running it in a businesslike way (a necessity).