By Jeff Robinson
We know it all too well because we hear it all too often: jargon. I don’t mean the kind that teens use; the kind that can, oh my god, like totally annoy adults. Seriously, the kind of jargon I’m referring to is the kind commonly used by many businesspeople. And not all of that jargon is equal, or bad. In fact, there are three kinds of business jargon: the acceptable kind, the unacceptable kind and the marginally acceptable kind.
The acceptable kind is used by people in a trade or profession like, for example, plumbers, doctors, or software engineers. Their jargon is necessary because it’s the clearest way, and often the only way, to describe crucial aspects of their work. More importantly, everyone in the respective trade or profession uses the same terminology.
The unacceptable kind of business jargon is the unnecessary use of complicated or ambiguous language when simpler, clearer alternatives exist. Unlike the jargon of doctors, plumbers and software engineers, this kind is not needed to explain any part of their work. Here’s an example:
“We encourage these proactive employees to push the envelope by enthusiastically taking ownership of cutting edge projects. That way, we leverage core competencies and stay ahead of the shifting marketplace paradigm. Our marketing tiger team keeps everyone in the loop by being constantly on top of the numbers and by engaging in monthly face time with each player. This tight-knit ecosystem empowers the company to punch above its weight and stay ahead of the curve. Crucially, it enables us to monetize the synergy and so significantly boosts the bottom line.”
Businesspeople that use this kind of jargon do so merely to show how clever they are. It doesn’t work because everyone knows that they’re just trying to show off. Indeed, they usually produce the opposite result: they annoy their audience, devalue their message, and belittle themselves. Worse still, they rarely communicate their core points because their language both confuses and irritates the listener. A confused, but sufficiently interested listener may make an effort to ignore the jargon, but an annoyed listener is likely to walk away.
Just as it is in speech and presentations, jargon is also widespread in business documentation; it constantly crops up in correspondence, reports, white papers, and webpages. It’s not uncommon even in material produced by professional writers in advertising, PR, and the media, and it’s a particular problem on business websites because of the potentially large number of people who can view it. Websites that target people spread over a wide geographical area, especially when it spans different countries, run a high risk of alienating potential customers if they use terms specific to particular regions or that have different meanings in different places. Webpages should be written in simple unambiguous language that English speakers in any part of the world will understand.
The marginally acceptable kind of jargon is the kind used in informal conversations, emails, and text messages by most businesspeople in order to make the exchange more relaxed. It has a positive, though limited, role as long as it’s used sparingly and not to sound clever. In most business interaction, it’s safer to avoid any kind of jargon unless the communication is with a close associate.
Unnecessary jargon makes life difficult for everyone dealing with a business. It delays decision-making because people waste valuable time trying to decipher its meaning. The prerequisite of all business communication is very simple and can be summed up in one word: clarity, not cleverness. The word should be hung over every businessperson’s desk.