Jargon Must Die
Let’s talk about jargon in the workplace.
Jargon has been around forever, but net-net, it’s not facilitating synergistic alignment amongst our human capital on a go-forward basis, so we should leverage a…ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?
Unfortunately, many people could get all the way through that sentence before they realized it was a joke. Jargon must die.
Why do we talk this way? Let’s look at a few reasons.
- In emotionally difficult discussions, we mask what we need to say with words that make us feel less uncomfortable.
- We feel unconfident, so we lead with apologies or self-deprecating qualifiers before presenting information.
- We’ve not adequately planned or thought through a strategy to the point where we can explain it with “normal words”.
- We feel like we need to try and impress readers/listeners by using “fifty cent words”.
I’m a repeat-jargon-offender. I’ve written entire paragraphs that say literally nothing. If I got paid by the word, I’d be rich 😂
But I’ve also worked really hard to overcome my “jargonistic tendencies” (yes I just made that up). I’ve realized that the key to effective communication starts in the preparation — and without that preparation, the delivery itself will suffer.
Here are my “3 C’s” of clear, well-prepared communication:
Step 1: Competence
The cause of most jargon is that we don’t know what we’re talking about!
Don’t take this personally. The highest performers in business and in life are always students of their craft. But the reality is that if we’re not 100% sure in what we’re doing or explaining, we’ll tend to compensate for that with fancy-sounding phrases that are nonspecific and unhelpful.
Example: “We need to ensure that we gain financial clarity for streamlined operations…”
Improvement: “We can’t accurately forecast our cash burn rate due to two key reasons…”
You can’t pull off the second version of that unless you’ve done the work to specifically identify the problem and the two reasons behind it.
You’re now competent enough to explain the plan with specifics. Awesome!
Step 2: Confidence
Competence creates confidence. When you know your game is tight, that you’ve looked at all the angles, when you’ve done the work…you’ll show up that way.
But if you haven’t gotten there yet, it tends to manifest in self-deprecating qualifiers that open a discussion.
Example: “Look, I’m not an accountant, but I’ll give you my best guess at what I think about these financial reports. We really should get someone else in here to double check what I’m about to walk us through.”
Improvement: “I’m not an accountant, but I shouldn’t have to be one in order to forecast our cash burn. Here’s what I need to see in our reports in order to solve the problem…”
I’m not saying we should be making decisions about things we’re not qualified to speak on — in the above case, you probably should work with an accountant. But either front-load that work up front, or explain what you need from YOUR position.
By putting in the work ahead of time, you’ll be confident in your plan — because you became competent in it beforehand.
Step 3: Clarity
Even when you’re competent and confident, jargon still tends to sneak in.
A few specific tactics for increasing clarity:
- Read your writing out loud. I do this every time I write, and it’s the single editing activity that catches more mistakes than anything else.
- Explain it to someone. Ideally, to someone without direct context of what you’re writing about. Can they understand it? Summarize it? Are they doom-scrolling on Facebook while you’re talking? Their reaction to what you’re explaining will tell you a LOT.
- “What does this sentence actually mean?” All of your key points should survive this line of questioning. If you have a sentence about “streamlining achievement of results and ensuring no balls get dropped”, you’ve successfully written about nothing. Get specific!
Killing jargon in my written and verbal communication is a lifelong pursuit. Clear communication is an absolute superpower, and it’s a skill worth developing for anyone that leads other people.
I’ll still sometimes revert back to my jargon-filled comfort zone, but by using the above strategies, I tend to catch it more often than not.
NOTE: This post was inspired by the book Leading Through Language by Bart Egnal.
This post was created with Typeshare