People

Why it’s time we got rid of corporate jargon

Gabrielle Dolan /

Are you sick of the words used in business that don’t really mean anything? Words and phrases like optimisation, actualisation, visualisation and operationalisation. When did we start adding ‘isation’ to every 10th word?

I recall a time when I was working with a senior executive who would often use the term ‘executional excellence’. I never really understood what it meant and to me, it just sounded like we had killed something and did it really well.

However, I noticed that his people also didn’t understand what it really meant so I asked for his interpretation. He said something along the lines of: It’s the combination of visualisation followed by the realisation of the agreed deliverables in line with strategic direction”. To which I responded: “Still not getting it!

He tried again: “Well, it be can defined as a successful completion of the stated objectives that is both consistent and reliable“.

I thought I would push my luck one more time and in pure frustration he said: “Put simply what it means is when we decide to do something let’s just make sure we bloody well do it right”.

My immediate reaction to his third statement was: “I get that and I’m engaged by what you said, so why can’t we just say that?”

There are many people using corporate jargon and acronyms throughout the workplace. But make no mistake, every time we use corporate jargon and acronyms we disconnect and isolate people, regardless of whether we mean to or not.

While most of us use jargon or acronyms unwittingly and without menace, some airlines have recently been receiving some bad press about deliberating making contracts hard to understand, resulting in customers paying no show fees. For example, Emirates’ contract of carriage is single-spaced and 38 pages long, Delta has a total of 69 pages and the American Airlines’ contract is an impressive 110 pages. The airlines sometimes use shorthand to spell out important information such as NONREF/0VALUAFTDPT/CHGFEE. This is on United Airlines’ receipts and what it means is that a ticket is non refundable, that it has zero value if you don’t cancel before departure time, and that changes also incur a fee.

If isolating people by using jargon isn’t a good enough reason on its own to stop doing it, then consider research conducted in 2011 at New York University. This study concluded that there was a lower level of trust when vague words were being used, and a higher level when more concrete words were used. In other words, the more you use jargon, the more people think you are lying.

Not surprisingly, using jargon is easier than being genuine. Don’t get me wrong, I am just as guilty of using corporate jargon, but I seriously think it is one of the laziest and selfish ways to communicate. When we converse using corporate idioms it puts the onus on the person you are communicating with to ‘get it’. Fundamentally, effective communicators do not expect the listener to simply ‘get it’; they understand that it is the job of the person speaking to help their audience understand what it is they want to say.

The concept of Jargon Free Fridays is about taking a fun approach to deal with a serious business problem. It is almost like we are addicted to jargon and giving it up is hard, so why not start by committing to one day without it? Hopefully being conscious of using jargon on a Friday will help us become aware of just how much we use it—and once we are aware, we have a better chance of doing something about it.

So join me in this global revolution. It’s time to make the vision a reality by optimising best practice and operational excellence, as well as synergising everyone to be singing from the same hymn sheet, while simultaneously not drinking the Kool-Aid.

Or in other words, let’s just do this.

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Gabrielle Dolan

Gabrielle Dolan is the founder of Gabrielle Dolan Consulting and Jargon Free Fridays. She is an expert in business storytelling with over 30 years of experience working for and with some of Australia’s largest financial service providers. Her fifth business book, Real Communication: How to be you and lead true, is due to be published by May 2019.

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