Jargon is Junk

Posted By on September 11, 2012

Buzzwords and Jargon are bad for business communicationsI was working with a client last week who riddled his speech with industry jargon and acronyms.  I felt frustrated and confused trying to figure out what he was trying to say.

I was reminded of a wonderful and amusing blog post I read late last year by Dan Pallotta (@danpallotta). It was published in his Harvard Business Review blog and was titled “I Don’t Understand What Anyone is Saying Anymore”.  He points to the proliferation of acronyms, abstractions, Valley-speak and meaningless expressions.

In short, Dan observes, people do not speak simply and clearly. I agree.

Avoid Industry Jargon

Business people who use jargon run the risk that their communications will be rendered completely useless because people do not understand what they’ve said. For amusement, immerse yourself in some Internet speak from Entrepreneur’s Magazine’s post titled “Jargon“. My favorite? Blamestorming. CNET published the Beginner’s Guide to Telecom Jargon which includes now-familiar gems “4G”, “NFC”, and, another of my favorites, “Throttling”. Throttling, of course, doesn’t refer to strangling. Rather it refers to your carrier slowing down your connection speed when you exceed the maximum allowed under you data plan. Who knew.

While every industry has terms of art, these are effective only when speaking to people who understand those terms. I worked in television news for years and in that industry the word “window” did not refer to the glass on the perimeter of your office or building.  It referred to booking broadcast time on a satellite. For people “in the biz,” it was fine to use “window” in this way. But when talking with people we were interviewing, we avoided such terms.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone understands industry terms. Replace jargon, clichés and management-speak with straightforward phrases or an example that illustrates an otherwise unclear phrase.

Use Plain English

You won’t go wrong if you use plain English.

Identify simple words to replace the buzzwords. Substitute the common word for the jargon in your daily business communications. Notice when others are using buzzwords and mentally substitute your chosen alternative. This “practice” will help you expunge jargon from your own communications.

In the words of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: “Once you can express yourself, you can tell the world what you want from it.”

And, to Dan’s point, if you obfuscate through cliché and words that are not clear, you miss the opportunity to raise your voice, be heard, and tell your audience what matters to you and what you are looking for. Speaking for impact is not an accident. It’s a skill. Hone your skills using plain English and you’ll improve your impact.

Share your thoughts

What are good substitutions for your industry’s jargon? Share them in a comment to this post.


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