Business As A Second Language (Part 2) Getting to the point is optional, but appropriate fatuity is required. A step-by-step guide to every business conversation you will ever have in your entire life.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Hi there. Last time we discussed some of the obstacles that attend the creation and enjoyment of a truly first-rate business conversation. Many questions were raised, and some solutions suggested, but the table was merely set for our eventual repast. So today we roll out the little wieners, several steam trays laden with breaded medallions and even perhaps some of those cute little julienned vegetables in a light butter sauce. Care to sit down?

The first important principle to recognize, I believe, is that all successful business conversations are essentially the same. Oh, the content may vary, along with other particulars, like the name of the person you're speaking with. But each and every one is constructed along identical lines.

To parse the universal business conversation and its immutable components, we will be using the following measurements and definitions:

--Portion of total: Each segment of the conversation has a required duration when seen as a part of the whole. Expressed as a percentage.

--Fatuity level: Out of 100. Business talk is greased with a fine ointment of empty chat, stupid effluvia, and meaningless wind, and thank God for it.

--Smile requirement: Brightness/duration, each measured on a scale of 5. All such numbers may be decreased by a factor of 25% for each elevation in rank above vice president. Chairmen may ignore entirely.

--Emotional investment: Some portions of your conversation need your ears, your spleen, and maybe several other body parts. Others need only your lips. Out of a possible 10.

--Possible topics: Suggestions, although content rarely matters as much as you think it does. I listened to two international executives for more than 90 minutes on a bullet train to Tokyo last week. At no time did a subject emerge.

--Examples: Some real-life illustrations that have worked for actual business people.

Okay, we've got our terminology. Let's roll!


You've got to begin someplace. If you ever expect to get off the ground, start flapping.

Portion of total: 15%.

Fatuity level: Up to 100.

Smile requirement: 5/4. That is, maximum brightness, almost max duration. I'm not a big believer in the right to be surly for anybody who doesn't earn more than $350,000 per year.

Emotional investment: 1.5. It's okay to start in the shallow end.

Possible topics: Weather, clothing, smarmy references to Monica Lewinsky.

Example: "Man, that's some bad hat you got there, Charley."


Now we're in the gray zone where impressions are made and relationships are built.

Portion of total: 10% to 35%.

Fatuity level: 50 to 75. You might want to interject a soupcon of substance here, but hey, don't let me rein in your natural exuberance.

Smile requirement: 3/2. It's possible to ease off the rictus now and let the whole facial equipment sag just a little.

Emotional investment: 3.5

Possible topics: How you're doing; how he/she is doing; how the Lewinsky affair might affect the course of the government; golf; some combo of all.

Example: "The President is one hell of a golfer. I wonder how this whole situation with that Lewinsky woman will affect his game."


Isn't there something you want from this person? Anything at all? Some agenda that will shift a duty to someone far less fortunate, clarify a mud puddle, attract some credit to you where none is due?

Portion of total: Anywhere from 1% to 50%. Certain substance specialists who are trained to work with heavy objects have been known to achieve point levels of 70% or more, but those attempting to do so without either an MBA, a helmet, or several glasses of beer do so at their own risk. Note: Do not stay too long in Level 3 or revert to it once you have left! Careers have been destroyed by people who stayed too long in areas full of points.

Fatuity level: Low. Those with special equipment may venture below the critical 5 threshold, to where truth resides and prisoners are not taken. But be aware--even those who consistently abandon fatuity on the job do so for short periods of time only. A safe level of at least 15 is advised for those who do not wish to burn out and retire to organic apple farming at the age of 40.

Smile requirement: 0/0. The good news is that the establishment of a point obviates the need for bogus facial distortion.

Emotional investment: 10. No point is worth a damn unless it's got your guts wrapped around it.

Possible topics: Your promotion and how he might gain by it; his promotion and how you might gain by it; whether the special prosecutor's office is a partisan anachronism that should be abolished.

Example: "Gee, Murray, I can't stand the way Kozlovski goes off on his own all the time without accountability to the rest of the management structure. Isn't there some way we can pull him into our corner of the org chart?"


Get out of there now.

Portion of total: 1%. You're a busy person. This has gone on long enough.

Fatuity level: 0 to 100. Sometimes just say "bye." Other times you stick out your tongue and bark like a dog. Whatever it takes, that's the drill.

Smile requirement: 5/0. A short blast of sunshine is nice. Emotional investment: A total 10. It takes heart to terminate things without prejudice.

Possible topics: What you're doing next; your good hopes for his future; whether both your computers are year-2000 compliant; the most recent Bill Clinton joke.

Example: Oh, come on. You've heard them all, haven't you? By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.