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The Real Danger in Jargon

“Any fool can make something complicated.”
It’s with the spirit of this idea in mind that we regularly find ourselves advising our clients to simplify. To use the language of the everyman, not insider jargon. The main purpose of common language is, of course, to be broadly understood. And jargon is an insider’s game. Could a ten year-old understand it? If not, think hard about throwing it out there.

The idea that jargon can be a real turn-off for many isn’t new. A quick Google search will reveal countless “Top Ten” lists of most-hated bits of office jargon. And, to be fair, the office is where the most commonly hated jargon lives. Time and time again, we see in our research that complex language is the fastest way to get your audience to close their ears. Most things opaque or abstract will be turnoffs.

Many of us are aware of this. And yet we keep using this jargon. We feel, subconsciously, that even though we’re playing an insider’s game, there’s a mitigating factor: how powerful the jargon sounds. Don’t these trendy sound bites feel more impactful and give our moribund emails that extra oomph? We think we’ll get better results and sound more effective if we suggest we “actioned” rather than “took care of” something.

But for all the potential benefits (and they’re scant) of business jargon to create more impactful, unique language, there’s a greater danger in using it than simply turning off jargon-haters. This kind of language is often very imprecise. Resulting in folks who don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

What do we mean when we say each of the following?

Reach out – a term which could mean initiating any kind of communication or gesture, from email, to telephone, to word-of-mouth.

Circle back – what kind of commitment are you suggesting? A check-in? A review? A conversation, or an in-depth meeting?

Take offline – where exactly is offline? Does this mean setting up a separate meeting between a subset of the group, or a discussion with the whole group of a separate agenda?

Full-service – a term many marketing and communications agencies use to describe their offerings, which tries to suggest everything while showing nothing.

Out of pocket – how out of pocket are you? Simply away from your desk, on the road working remotely, or on holiday in the Bahamas?

Influencers – a word commonly seen in market research to describe someone somehow desirable to engage with—but begging the question: influencing what?

Pivot – if we’re pivoting from our first direction, are we taking an entirely new direction, or are we simply making a minor course adjustment to the original plan?

Precise language is important because it directly impacts the results we achieve with our communication. These are just a few examples of how certain jargon can make our language much less effective, because it serves only to cloud our meaning.

Business jargon may be ever-so-tempting in the search for impact and differentiation in the way you communicate with colleagues and clients. But it merits remembering that with jargon, you risk not only turning off your audience by overcomplicating your language, but you also risk imprecision and the resulting misapprehension.