Jargon
By Gemma Morris
12th May 2015

We’re reaching out to align our communication strategies by drilling down and cascading relevant information on effective jargon solutions.

Or, put another way: we want to talk about management speak.

You know the terms we’re talking about: Touch base. Going forward. Thinking outside the box. A survey conducted by the Institute of Leadership & Management last year identified jargon and management speak as one of the biggest irritants among British office workers, with the three expressions above being cited as the worst offenders.

The reasons for this could be varied. Some may not like the creeping Americanisms taking over the workplace. Some may reject what they see as vacuous and self-important hot air, sound and fury but signifying nothing.

To us, though, the most distressing thing about IT jargon is that it obscures meaning. If there is one golden rule to effective communication, we’d argue it’s “Say what you mean, and mean what you say”. When we let ourselves get distracted by trying to work the newest buzzwords into our emails, conversations and presentations, we lose sight of what it is we’re trying to say and – crucially – whether our audience will understand it.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most common ways we tend to mangle meaning in the workplace. Rather than provide a list of specific phrases (you can find a good one here), we want to focus more on the categories of jargon and what the effects can be.

Misuse of a word to make something sound more important:

Take for example “solution”, a word that has come to mean everything from the traditional way to solve a mathematical proof to a suite of efficiency-enhancing software. Says Glen Turpin, a communications consultant: "It usually refers to a collection of technologies too abstract or complex to describe in a way that anyone would care about if they were explained in plain English". In such cases, we think ‘solution’ is a perfect way to sum up something complicated that was designed to solve an actual problem without losing your audience’s attention.

However, the issue with this word is that’s applied to just about everything now, a catch-all phrase meant to indicate any aspect of a business. Imagine if other businesses operated this way: we’d think twice about getting Friday night takeaway from a shop called Fish and Chip Solutions. Was there a problem being solved? Or are you simply trying to make something sound more important? Use this word sparingly and stick to its original meaning.

Making verbs out of nouns:

We wearily admit defeat with “impact”, a perfectly good noun that through repeated misuse, seems to have become accepted as a verb. Even worse is clunky-sounding “incentivise” (rather than “provide incentive”). But it’s not too late to stem the tide. We recently heard someone use “diligence” as a verb at a pitch meeting. All he meant, quite simply, was that the prospective client could check out his company’s software, see what it could so and then decide whether to buy it. But the effect was to redirect the thoughts of everyone in the room from listening to the pitch to asking themselves when diligence became a verb. He lost credibility quickly and needless to say, didn't win the business.

Verbal gymnastics:

“I’ll reach out to him and circle back to you.” Unless you are a part of a circus trapeze act, there’s no reason not to say anything of the sort when a simple “I’ll phone you back when I have an answer” will do. We particularly go out of our way to avoid phrases like this, because they can create confusion in instances when people expect – even need – a direct answer. As recruiters, we know our candidates and our clients depend on us for prompt and clear communication – and we believe it’s part of our job to provide just that.

It’s a fine line, of course. We work in a highly specialised industry in which technical terms and IT jargon are hard to avoid. In fact, they can be very useful when you’re speaking to a like-minded audience. But as a general rule, ask yourself a few questions about your choice of jargon before sending an email or holding a meeting:

  • Why am I using this term?
  • Does it really mean anything or am I trying to impress someone?
  • Will my audience understand what I'm saying?
  • Is there a simpler way to phrase this?
  • When everyone has read the email or left the meeting, will it be with a clear message in mind?

Don’t worry about trying to sound more professional or impressive. Remember that nothing makes an impact like simple, clear, direct communication. If you can cut through the noise of empty jargon to get your message across? Now that’s impressive.

What are the buzzwords that most annoy you, and why? Or do you love jargon and want to defend it? Share your thoughts with us here.

Comments

"You are 110% correct. Another reason for misuse of the language is quite simply that people do not know what the words mean. Also: consulting organisations like to use jargon to try and deceive or at least mislead clients: and so manymanagers don’t have the courage to question claims and assertions made by consultancies with famous names. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book: “Blind ’em with (pseudo-)science ….. cynical aren’t I?" - David Grayshan

"Here here!
Things can get complicated – don’t make them more so." - Andrew

"As it happens, I am speaking on this very subject at next week’s Data Governance / MDM Europe Summit in London! I’ll be giving a 5 minute ‘Lightning Talk’ at 17:30 on Monday 18 May. Entitled ‘Room 101 – Data Jargon’ I will rant against the use of meaningless jargon in data management. BTW my own personal horror buzz phrase is ‘ optimise the vale of you data assets’…yawn…" - Nigel Turner

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