I ran a client workshop last week and we got to talking about their values - we'd done some work to refresh their eight-year-old values and were presenting some options back to the team. We'd used words like 'agile', 'dynamic' and 'innovation' and we talked about being more 'warm and respectful'. In the course of the conversation we all agreed that we needed to use words that actually meant something to people.
For me, the same goes for the everyday terms we use in work, the little verbal shortcuts, the acronyms, the project names.
When I talk about this in workshops I'm often challenged by people who try the 'well if everyone understands it then it isn't jargon and in using the jargon, we can get our work done more efficiently' line.
True. To a point.
But what if someone new joins the team? What if your team is moved to a different department? What if your team is audited and the auditor hasn't a clue about what you do?
And what about all the corporate speak that seems to have become the way of things that seems to have become the norm - an innovative, integrated and dynamic partnership that will offer us cutting edge and interactive strategic partnerships as we circle back to review our overall ground-breaking product set.(you can download your own Buzzword bingo cards by clicking on the image!)
I'm all for eloquent communication but the truth is simple - when we don't use words that people understand it breeds distrust. Put simply, people feel as though you're trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
All these words just get in way, they undermine trust, they feed the cynics and they kill productivity.
But there is hope!
In a 2014 Fast Company article, the founders of a US-based comms consultancy suggest simply talking like you do at the weekend. They suggest four simple rules:
1. Pay attention to how you speak - Think of the last time you told a story that made other people react. What sorts of descriptions did you use? How did you structure the story? What was it about the story that made them laugh or get angry? Those are clues to how you can be more effective in your workplace communications.
2. Use simple language to make people care - Asked once about what his company did, the CEO of a major golf company said “We’re the leading multi-channel retailer of golf products equipment and services.” But after 15 minutes of questions and discussion he finally blurted out, “We’re a candy store for golfers.” That kind of colorful analogy gives people an image and makes them interested in what you have to say.
3. If it's not in the dictionary, don't use it - Jargon enthusiasts often make up words like “bouncebackability” and “recontextualizes.” If the word isn’t in the dictionary, there’s a good chance the word is jargon, and you should ditch it.
4. Use examples - One of the most powerful storytelling methods is to illustrate a concept by using an example or anecdote. So, if you’re claiming that your company changes the lives of busy working parents, follow that up with a story about someone whose life was changed in the way you’re trying to explain.
Most of the time it's simply about being self-aware enough to stop and think about what you're saying.
If you were trying to explain the issue to your mum or your 10-year old, would you use the same words?
Probably not I'd say!