by Steve Adubato, PhD
Most people use jargon in the world of business and aren’t even aware of it. Consider one particularly irritating buzz phrase, “at the end of the day…I’m confident you will see our earnings turn around.” At the end of what day? What a dumb expression. Yet, I’ve heard it used by countless executives in every professional arena. It is really nothing more than a stalling technique. It’s a way to make what you are about to say seem more important than it really is.
There are so many other examples of business jargon and buzzwords, not to mention acronyms, that get in the way of effective and clear communication. I’m guilty of using the expression, “paradigm.” I learned it in graduate school. The exact expression was “paradigm shift.” I started using it, probably to make what I was about to say seem more important than it really was. “Paradigm” simply means a big idea or a way of looking at things. It has very little practical use in every day business communication.
Allison Grant of the Newhouse News Service recently wrote a piece on financial jargon where she poked fun at the expression “re-engineering” of a workforce. “Re-engineering” either means you are laying people off, demoting someone, or giving someone else the nice corner office with windows. The term “re-engineering” seems less offensive. Less direct. But it is a lot more confusing.
And what about “best practices?” That’s hot jargon these days. I guess that means someone who is doing something really well who the rest of us should try to copy. Other business jargon includes “close the loop,” “functionality,” and a really irritating one called “strategic value proposition.” The problem is that these expressions mean different things to different people, but no one wants to say that. We act like we are in on some sort of secret society in the world of business that can’t simply use every day English for fear that we wouldn’t come off as smart as we think we are supposed to be.
The irony is that the most effective communicators use simple, clear English to get their message across. CLARITY is their calling card. You have very little doubt when a great communicator talks to you about what he or she really means. The problem of jargon gets even worse in specialized areas of work. Lawyers, doctors and especially accountants communicate in maddening jargon, while the rest of us are confused and frustrated.
If you or your colleagues are guilty of communicating through jargon more than you know your should, consider these suggestions:
- Always think about your audience. If they weren’t sitting beside you in law school, medical school or in that finance or computer class, then assume they don’t know what you are talking about. Speak for the other person and not yourself.
- Become more aware of hearing yourself using acronyms. If you do use one, briefly explain what it means. If not, your audience is left to figure it out while you are on to a different point.
- Find a shorter way to say things. We just use too many words. Instead of saying, “Your actions are an inappropriate response, which only cause me to feel I have to respond in kind.” Try saying, “That’s really bothering me. Can you stop it?”
- Get out of your head the idea that jargon makes you sound smart or business savvy. It doesn’t. It creates communication barriers and obstacles and hurts your ability to build relationships and close deals.
What jargon do you use and what are you going to do about it? Write to me.