One of the most common phrases to be heard on our communication skills courses.
Whether it’s an ‘optimised strategy’, ‘on-boarding’ or ‘boiling the ocean’.
We have a simple rule for jargon and management-speak:
Jargon to us means anything which one member of your audience fails to fully understand.
So why do we use it?
“I’m Stuart Baggs the brand, and I run a global telecommunications agency”.
So said the late star of the UK’s Apprentice, as he penned an application for a job to show host Sir Alan Sugar.
As it turns out, the 21-year-old was selling phones and IT systems largely confined to the Isle of Man.
He wanted to sound authoritative, but it ended up sounding pompous and exaggerated.
You could say the same about most job titles.
They aim to professionalise but often confuse and inflate.
Radio Four’s Jonathan Meades called jargon “the language of the trained liar”.
It’s hard to disagree – so best always to speak plainly in terms everyone understands.
If someone feels confused, there goes your long-term relationship.
Or to you and me, the legal stuff that allows you to sell or buy your house.
Jargon is often synonymous with ‘barriers to entry’.
If you’re unable to understand the terminology, I can charge more for understanding it on your behalf.
There’s a reason a trained lawyer will sort that out for you.
Just as there’s a reason your GP has trained for 12 years before being allowed to practise.
But a really good lawyer, doctor, accountant or mortgage advisor will explain things simply to you.
They’ll remove barriers to understanding, rather than erect them.
Consider the likes of Professor Brian Cox or Professor Robert Winston.
They’re celebrated TV personalities because they’re able to make the complex simple.
If they droned on in terms you failed to understand, you’d switch off immediately.
Really great leaders simplify.
Listen to any Brexit interview and you’ll hear some fantastic jargon.
One reason for much of the rhetoric and posturing is the lack of certainty.
And when under pressure, politicians retreat into campaign slogans and vague platitudes.
“The worst of both worlds”.
“Brexit means Brexit”.
“No deal is better than a bad deal”.
The trouble is, people see right through it.
So best to get to know your subject inside-out before doing any presentation or media interview.
And if pressed on a subject, with which you’re unfamiliar, tell people:
“I don’t know. What I do know is”.
Far better than simply making it up.
It’s easy to misjudge our audience’s level of understanding.
Imagine asking a group of 7-year-olds what they think of the Irish backstop or the 1922 Committee.
You’d get a strange look, and I expect they’d then walk away.
Adults wish they could react in the same way, but they’re trapped in the meeting.
Avoid mistaking your colleagues’ nodding heads for understanding.
Avoid mistaking their eye contact for trust.
We’re very good at faking our internal feelings.
If we hear something we fail to understand, very few people raise a hand and ask for clarification.
That means the burden is on you to make it clear from the outset.
Or should that be avoid being condescending?
We sometimes see a roll of the eyes when we talk about applying jargon filters.
And the retort:
“That wouldn’t work in our industry”.
The accusation is that this amounts to ‘dumbing-down’.
I wholeheartedly disagree.
For me it’s like swearing (we all know the words, we just choose to use different ones).
So, explaining things simply is a choice; it’s a skill.
Tabloid journalists are paid more than broadsheet journalists for the same reason.
It’s hard to find the simple explanation.
So, keep searching for it, and people will trust you.
Read our blogs here, which help you to remove jargon and build engagement instead:
How to avoid jargon every day: Make Your Message Crystal Clear
In presentations: Press Release Fairytale Epic
In business writing: Write Clearly Like Hemingway
Or even better, come along to our communication skills course and see for yourself.
After all, we’re a very impressive and multi-faceted global communications agency.
Andrew McFarlan is the Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications.
You can view his profile here.
Photos By OnePexels.com
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