“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
This observation was included in a recent online post about the history of jargon, and it got my attention. I’ve been writing and reading a boat-load of reports, letters, and proposals in the past few weeks, and I know how easy it is to make the mistake of thinking that communication has “taken place.” I’ve made the mistake myself recently, on more than one occasion.
“Excessive use of jargon can weigh down our communication and can be taxing to listeners. It may make it more difficult for others to grasp the full meaning behind our message. Worst of all, using jargon can be distancing. It may make some listeners feel excluded because they may not understand all the jargon and buzzwords being used—especially if it comes on thick and fast.”
So what, according to the author, tops the current list of bothersome business buzzwords? Synergy. Low-hanging fruit. Thinking outside the box. This summer I bought a card featuring the famous New Yorker cartoon by Leo Cullum showing a man talking to his cat, adjacent to the litter box. The caption? “Never, ever think outside the box.” In my book, that’s a great use of jargon. In most instances beyond New Yorker cartoons, however, jargon can be frustrating. In preservation, we have our own professional jargon. (Section 106, anyone? Cultural resources?) Business consultants who work for us also have their jargon. (Quick, how many of you know that SaaS stands—in some minds—for Software as a Service? Or that CCN is a Change Control Note. Nope? I didn’t either.)
How to improve your communication? First,
“…consider evaluating any jargon you might be in the habit of using. Carefully constructing your important messages to avoid buzzwords and replacing them with thoughtful expressions may pay dividends. For one thing, the absence of stock phrases or formulaic expressions may signal that you’re speaking authentically, from the heart, about things that matter to your business and to those you’re addressing. Buzzword-free communication can help you stand out above the din of the crowd.”
Family members who don’t work in the field are a great test for the quality of your communication. Ask yourself: “would a friend or family member not involved in (my) world understand the expressions I’m using? If not, change them to plain English. This is not about ‘dumbing down’ your content. It’s about explaining the same content in plainer language that’s widely understood.”
We all know and cherish people who write or speak clearly so everyone can understand. Harry Truman is one historical figure known for his plain speaking, and it helps explain how a man who ran a men’s clothing store rose to become president of the United States. Truman memorably phrased his ability to get to the point when he said, “I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.”
So go out there and give ‘em…well, whatever is needed to clearly make your point.
Have a good week.
More to come…