"Look at these sales figures! – You know Sam, you can't put lipstick on a pig. If we continue this strategic partnering paradigm we might as well be milking a mouse. We've got to cut bait and return to our archetype of using customer-oriented discretionary values to make product reengineering decisions."
If your head is spinning after reading that, you're not alone. The culprit is jargon: The use of specialized terms, idioms, expressions, acronyms and abbreviations that are understandable to only a select group of people.
Jargon – the specialized language of a group of people – has its place in the workplace. It can provide useful shorthand to get across specific meaning quickly.
But jargon becomes a problem when it stops people understanding your message. When you start using jargon (perhaps unintentionally) with audiences it is not intended for, people will find you very difficult to understand.
Even within the group the jargon's meant for, meanings evolve and newcomers misunderstand. And soon jargon can create barriers within groups too.
In the comments above, made to Sam by his colleague, there are seven instances of business jargon and idioms. You may be familiar with some of the words or phrases, but do you know what the speaker really means? Probably not. That is the problem with jargon. It diminishes the effectiveness of the communication.
It would be much easier for Sam, and anyone else listening, if the speaker simply said:
"Look at these sales figures! – They don't look good. The new partnering arrangement is not working. We need to go back to deciding on product improvements based on customer feedback."
Every profession, organization and specialized group has some unique vocabulary that can speed communication between group members. This is okay, provided that the meaning is totally clear to everyone who needs to understand. (Sometimes it's even a benefit that others outside the group do not understand. For example, patients may sometimes be better off not knowing some of the jargon used between doctors.)
Jargon is not effective however if your intended audience doesn't understand it. Some people use jargon unintentionally when it's out of place to do so. Others use it to look more knowledgeable.
Sometimes people replace perfectly acceptable and understandable words with fancy, specialized jargon, seeking to impress their audience. These specialist words seem to hold some magical power that can make the speaker feel more intelligent or more knowledgeable. Unfortunately, the impression he or she gives may be a negative one, rather than the one intended.
Whatever the reason you use jargon, if it's out of place and the audience misunderstands, it can create a two-fold problem. Whilst you fail to convey information to them, you may also succeed in conveying a more subtle, negative message: That you have given little thought to your audience; and perhaps that you are insincere and not to be trusted.
Worse, you may never know that your audience has not understood – people often don't say anything if they mistrust you, or if they fear of looking unintelligent themselves.
Here are some common uses of jargon. Which ones do you use?
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