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General Motors Give Employees Shocking Advice

Dan Brian   |  May 21, 2014   |  

General Motors entered into a consent order with the Department of Transportation, as part of its agreement to settle civil claims made by the government entity. Part of this consent order included several documents as exhibits. These exhibits included copies of a slideshow presented by GM managers to company employees, which instruct them on how to speak and write about defects in GM vehicles.

GM advised that its employees should not use “judgment words,” when describing problems with GM products, and told employees to avoid making opinions, speculations, or using words with an emotional context in their verbal or written communications. Employees were also advised not to use any words which could reflect badly on the company or indicate GM’s liability if their comments happened to become public or were used as part of a lawsuit.

For example, the presentation advised that instead of saying that a vehicle was defective, employees could say that the vehicle “does not perform to design.” The word “problem” could be softened by using terms like issue, condition, or matter instead. Phrases like “above or below expectations,” could substitute for harsher words like “good,” or “bad.”

In addition to providing employees advice about substitutions in their language,  GM employees also received a long list of words which should never be used when speaking about General Motors products. While some of these words seem to be relatively innocuous, like “bad,” “defect,” “safety,” and “serious,” others are much more incriminating. GM employees were advised not to use words conveying extreme emotions or events, like “disemboweling,” “Kevorkianesque,” “Corvair-like,” “rolling sarcophagus,” “Hindenburg,” and “apocalyptic.”

The slides makes one wonder what type of language GM employees were using to describe their vehicles prior to the presentation.

A copy of the consent order and attached exhibits containing the slideshow can be found at the Wall Street Journal’s website, http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/GMConsentOrder051614.pdf.