Business jargon baffles and alienates

Business jargon baffles and alienates

Needless jargon in the workplace baffles and alienates your employees, according to a new study. It even makes some employees think you’re trying to hide something. A survey of Scottish workers found that more than half were fed up with bosses using management jargon. Two-thirds preferred no jargon at all. Link.

I often rant about the importance of clear, simple language in your company’s marketing materials. But it’s noteworthy to discover that business jargon is often just as confusing to your own employees!

The survey, by the UK firm Investors in People, confirms what most of us already know. Phrases like “low hanging fruit,” “blue-sky thinking” and “brain dump” confuse and annoy workers. They frequently don’t have a clue what you mean — but being human, they don’t want to risk looking stupid by asking. Instead, they sit there quietly, feeling stupid and inadequate. That’s bad for morale, bad for productivity. And it widens the divide between management and staff, the survey suggests.

“Bosses need to lead by example, ditch needless jargon and concentrate on communicating clearly with their employees,” concluded the study.

As a professional writer, let me offer one partial solution: The first time you use any expression that might be confusing to your audience, explain what it means. For example:

“This month the sale team will go after the low-hanging fruit — you know, the easiest targets.”

“We need you to really push the envelope, to go beyond our usual limits.”

See how subtle that can be? You don’t have to beat your team over the head to explain what you mean. In fact, it defeats the whole purpose. But it’s important to realize that not everyone instantly understands phrases that might seem like second nature to you.

Here’s a great way to define something that may be unfamiliar: Use the phrase As you know. This gives your listeners credit for knowing something that, in reality, they may not actually understand:

“As you know, revenues are the total of all sales… “

“As you know, blue-sky thinking may not have a practical application yet, but it’s still important to consider all the possibilities.”

“Using management jargon doesn’t make you a good manager,” said Peter Russian, chief executive of Investors in People Scotland. “The most effective bosses recognize that one of the keys to engaging, motivating and enthusing people is to communicate in a way which everyone can easily understand.”

What about you? How do you feel about jargon? Do you have any better ways to explain the meaning of an unclear expression or phrase? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

But now, please excuse me. I have to go shift my paradigm…

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