A good way to ‘spring clean’ the way you communicate is to look at the language you use and check that you’re not going to lose your audience with words or phrases that won’t make sense to them. Jargon is defined as unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing; gibberish. While it can be easy to slip into using technical phrases it’s not something that organisations should do, especially when they are speaking to customers and others outside the business.
There are a few reasons why we do it, often people use jargon as a comfort blanket, the words are familiar or professional sounding terms to them and so they are easy to rattle off and fill the space or silence, but they’re no good at getting a clear message across.
Another easy mistake to make is dropping in acronyms to what you say – they might make sense to you and your specific colleagues but they could mean something very different in another industry or even department.
While it’s true that people in business roles sometimes can’t see the problem or the ‘wood for the trees’ with what they say, it’s important to remember that using technical language is likely to be a barrier to others understanding us.
The problem seems to be getting worse as well, perhaps due to the importance of technology and the huge, rapid growth that industry has had, people are often left scratching their heads wondering what they’re actually being told. It’s such a real issue that even Google have even created a tech term translator; https://www.engadget.com/2017/03/14/sideways-dictionary-simplifies-tech-jargon-for-the-masses/
The FT’s Lucy Kellaway was so frustrated by the language she kept coming up against that she put together a collection of jargon in her ‘Guffipedia’: https://ig.ft.com/sites/guffipedia/
Even more worrying for employers is this BBC report on how jargon is putting people off applying for jobs: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-39334487 The Daily Telegraph covered the story in more depth and quizzed job seekers on their knowledge of ‘corporate speak’ – unsurprisingly it was very limited; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/03/20/quiz-can-define-business-jargon-terms-putting-young-people-job/
What can you do to fix the problem?
Firstly; if you use jargon and acronyms all the time – stop it! Secondly; look at the words you use in presentations, pitches and press releases – would someone outside your own role really understand all of what you’re saying?
Apply a filter to your future writing and presentations to judge whether you need to rewrite or reword what you want to get across.
On those rare occasions when you do have to use acronyms or jargon, make sure you explain straight away what it means or double-check that it’s a term your audience are familiar with. No one has ever been criticised for using language that is too clear, sadly the opposite is all too common.
So, the problem is out there and it’s very real, we’re all guilty of slipping into bad habits and using terms that not everyone will understand but it’s holding us back, as when we do it, we’re pushing away our audience. Our communications training; whether media or presentation courses, stress that people should work hard to ensure they’re using language that’s clear and hopefully catchy enough to be quoted and remembered – the alternative is not what you want, you’ll be misunderstood and forgotten.
Written by Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.co.uk – March 2017