Opinion Columns & Blogs

Exploring what ‘reaching out’ means

By PAM STONE

Should I describe having telephoned someone I tend to say, “I called you.” And when I email or dust off my quill and ink pot to send a handwritten note, I would say, “I wrote you.” Same thing goes for even an abbreviated text.

But for some reason, it’s now referred to as ‘reaching out.’’

Why is that? I suspect it began in the business world as jargon, designed, perhaps, to soften the blow in ruthless dealings:

“O.K. we put in the takeover bid six hours ago for Grandma’s Kuntry Kitchens and there hasn’t been any reply. Has anyone heard anything?”

“No, sir, I reached out to them, but so far, nothing.”

“When did you reach out to them?”

“First thing this morning.”

“Better reach out to them, again.”

“Will do. Grandma has been admitted to hospital with heart failure, however.”

“I see. Then reach out to the florist and send a bouquet, or something, before reaching out to the rest of their board. But before you do that, reach out to our attorneys.”

“Yes, sir. Would you like me to reach out to you as soon as they reach out to me?”

“I think that goes without saying."

But what do I know? I’ve never had a real job (like with an office or a commute or those 'post it', thingys), it’s just that ‘reaching out,’ sounds very un-businesslike to me. Very soothing. You ‘reach out’ to those in need. You ‘reach out’ to be inclusive. If you’re Diana Ross, you ‘Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)'. However, you might also ‘reach out and touch someone’ should you attempt to be a communications monopoly.

I once sat in during a business meeting with the head cheese (of course it’s a pun and I’ve been dying to use it for years) at Kraft Foods. It’s a long and boring story to why I was there, but I was really glad I didn’t have to speak, because I didn’t know what the hell anyone was talking about. All I know was there was an attempt to put a deal in place and Mr Cheese kept using medical terms to explain his reluctance as we gathered around a conference table with a nice view of suburban Illinois out the windows.

“What I need to confirm, “ he said, linking his fingers together, “is the connective tissue as it correlates to the rest of our marketing department.”

“I think you’ll find we can remove any adhesions with our offer.”

“Pam?”

My head jerked back to the table. I’d been looking to see if I could see any horses in a nearby field.

“Can I get some Mac n’ Cheese?”

But no one offered to 'reach out' and assist me. They did, however, say, “We’ll be in touch,” and of course, they didn’t. Come to think of it, it’s odd that ‘being in touch’ would predate ‘reaching out,’ especially when you have to reach out before you can actually touch someone. It’s become all very ‘touchy-feely,’ hasn't it, in the business world? Which, I suppose, is sort of nice and perhaps this trend of tactile terminology will continue into the future.

“We still haven’t heard anything since putting in that takeover bid. Has anyone reached out again to Grandma's board?”

“Reached out and gently caressed, sir.”

“Good, good. Any feedback?”

“The attorneys are massaging the details as we speak.”

“Excellent. Now, can someone please hold me?”

“It’ll be my pleasure, sir."

Reach PAM STONE at pammstone@gmail.com.

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