Bleeding-edge advice: To communicate effectively you’ve got to ditch the jargon

Gabrielle Dolan

Jargon Free Fridays founder Gabrielle Dolan. Source: Supplied.

We are in a time of unprecedented change, often asking our employees and customers to follow us into uncharted waters. Alongside the uncertainty of change, we are also faced with the rise of technology and new corporate jargon entering the business vocabulary on an ongoing basis. The end result is employees and customers feel more and more isolated when they do not readily understand our technology, let alone the words and phrases that come along with it.

We are also more distrusting. Edelman, a global communications marketing firm, conducts an annual study to determine levels of trust. They have been undertaking this research for 18 years and their latest report shows the largest declines in trust ever recorded.

Building trust through real communication

One of the ways companies and individuals can build trust is by focusing on authentic communication. This requires using real words and avoiding corporate jargon and acronyms that can confuse and disengage people. Trust can also be built through timely and transparent communication of the facts and data. However, sharing well-constructed stories is by far the most beneficial method to ensure your audience connect emotionally with your message.

Many leaders avoid sharing stories because they believe they need to be lengthy. This is not the case. Take, for example, Alan Joyce, who regularly inserts a story into his letter from the CEO in the Qantas magazine.

In a recent edition, Alan Joyce wrote about how he spends a lot of time talking to passengers. These conversations often cover how certain Qantas employees have gone above and beyond expectations to help customers. He then shared three very succinct stories to illustrate his point and bring his message alive.


“Like the cabin crew member who, without being asked, paid special attention to a passenger with a broken wrist, right down to opening a bag of pretzels before handing them to her. Or the two engineers in Alice Springs, who had finished for the night but headed back to the airport, just in case, as soon as they heard that one of our international flights was diverting there because of a sick passenger. And the off-duty airport manager who, after disembarking a flight, noticed that a fellow passenger, waiting for his luggage, appeared to be distressed. When he learned that the passenger had misplaced his laptop on board, he took him back to the aircraft to help locate it.”


This is a great example of how you can use stories to communicate your point minus the corporate jargon.

What not to do

We often see leaders using jargon as an avoidance technique.

For example, company executives may refer to job losses as ‘downsizing’ or ‘rightsizing’.

In December 2018, General Motors took this to a whole new level when they referred to the closure of five plants in the United States and Canada — with a loss of up to 14,000 jobs — as being ‘unallocated’. Instead of saying words such as ‘sack’, ‘closure’ or ‘job losses’, they referred to these factories and people as ‘unallocated’.

Chief executive officer Mary Barra used the term three times when speaking to market analysts. For example, when she said: “Market conditions require that five North American assembly and propulsion plants will be unallocated product by the end of 2019.”

Honesty is the best policy

Research conducted in 2011 at New York University concluded there was a lower level of trust when vague words were being used (such as, ‘an apology would be needed if my words have caused offence’) and a higher level when more concrete words were used (such as, ‘I am sorry’).

What’s more, we learn from past experience that people don’t use ‘real’ words when they have something to hide or they are not being completely authentic. Therefore, the more you use jargon, the more people distrust you.

Trust is critical in business. Your customers need to trust you, especially in a time of increased choice and competition. Furthermore, your employees need to trust you as you lead them through unprecedented change.

If rebuilding or maintaining trust is important to you as a company or as an individual leader, then think about how you can be more authentic in your communication.

Three ways to build trust through real communication

  1. Avoid using jargon that can disengage and confuse people, ultimately leading to distrust or the belief that you have something to hide.
  2. Use true and succinct stories that help your audience connect and engage with your message.
  3. Be clear on the message you want to communicate. Avoid unnecessary details that distract from your audience connecting with what you are saying in both a visual and emotional sense.

NOW READ: Why it’s time we got rid of corporate jargon

NOW READ: As consumer scepticism grows, will the banks bounce back, or will competitors triumph?


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