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September 18, 2012

Jargon Obscures Meaning.

 

Let’s talk jargon.

The only thing more annoying than these trite phrases is the use of acronyms your audience doesn’t know.

Brett Nelson on Forbes.com recently wrote, “The next time you feel the need to reach out, touch base, shift a paradigm, leverage a best practice or join a tiger team, by all means do it. Just don’t say you’re doing it. Because—and please believe us—all that meaningless business jargon makes you sound like a complete moron.”

In my sales training classes I teach people that verbal placeholders like, “um…”or “really?” take power away from the words that follow them. The use of words like “basically,” “honestly,” or “great” has the same effect, implying to the listener that you’re going to “dumb it down” for them, haven’t been honest up until now, or are happy about whatever they just told you—even if it’s a major business problem.

Saying what you mean, without filler or padding, is the most effective way to communicate.

If you feel your listener won’t understand what you are saying, using an example or a story will clarify your meaning and strengthen your impact. clichés, on the other hand, will dilute it.

“Jargon masks real meaning,” says Jennifer Chatman, management professor at the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.“People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others.”

Let’s look at some examples. How many times have you been told to “give it 110 perent”  even though we know that is mathematically impossible? Have you been asked to take your questions or concerns “offline” when what is clearly meant is to not take up time in the meeting? When did a face-to-face meeting become “online” time?  How about being told to “move the needle?” On what gauge? Or, “take it to the next level?” Measured how?

There are reasons jargon is often substituted for direct communication. By wrapping what we say in a cloak of corporate-speak, we hope to sound like a member of the team. By using the jargon we hear around us, we hope to blend in and gain approval. Many of us hesitate to express ourselves clearly because doing so invites disagreement. There is a risk in stating your opinions and concerns. It is the opposite of another bit of common advice jargon, “keeping your head down.”

Without clear communication, however, can we reach a common understanding of what needs to be done? Can we agree on our purpose and our plans? Or are we fostering an ongoing atmosphere of murky confusion in which everyone assumes agreement but no one actually tests it?

Leaders communicate clearly and passionately what is expected and why it matters. They don’t just manage their people; they coach them, and that requires open and clear conversation without jargon to camouflage meaning.

So speak out, in your own words, and invite meaningful communication with others. Leave the jargon for those afraid to make a difference.

~

Editor: Brianna Bemel

 

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