Eliminate jargon: power up your communication

Eliminate jargon: power up your communication

Monday, 04 March 2019

Is there a particular office saying that’s guaranteed to irk you? Whether you hate having your “brains picked”, being encouraged to “think outside the box” or asked to “shed some light” on a problem, chances are you’re also guilty of some irritating office parlance of your own.


Most overused UK workplace saying

1.  Can I borrow you for a sec?
2. Pick your brains
3. Think outside the box
4. Keep me in the loop
5. Get the ball rolling
6. All hands on deck
7. How long is a piece of string?
8. Back to the drawing board
9. Can you shed some light on this? 
10. Move the goal-post

(Survey by Reed: March 2016)


“Anyone who thinks using buzzwords will make them sound intelligent is wrong. Clarity impresses. Buzzwords confuse,” writes Bloomberg Business journalist Carmine Gallo. By eliminating jargon from your workplace interactions, you’ll instantly become a more powerful, persuasive communicator. Here’re some tips for getting started.



As Albert Einstein once said: “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”

It’s one of the most under-discussed skills of a leader, but if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a boss’s longwinded or ambiguous instructions, you’ll most likely value clarity. Check in with whether you’re making yourself clear by imagining you’re making the same request of two or more very different employees. Would their expectations of the task (and therefore the outcome) likely be different?

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that simplicity in your communications undermines the complexity of your role: “People criticise simplicity because they need to feel as though the topic is more complicated,” financial guru Suze Orman is quoted as saying in Bloomberg Business. “It's our fear of extinction, our fear of elimination, our fear of not being important that leads us to communicate things more than we need to.”



If you work in technology, you will probably be well acquainted with the phrase ‘The internet of things’ – “the network of physical objects — devices, vehicles, buildings and other items — embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data”. If the phrase is new to you, Wikipedia’s definition is probably unlikely to have inspired you to learn more.

If, on the other hand, someone told you that in the future, every object in your house that has an on/off switch – your washing machine, digital radio, coffee maker and even the automatic cat flap – could be hooked up to the internet and operated via an app on your smartphone? Your head is probably already buzzing with life-changing possibilities. Human beings – even those well acquainted with the terms you’re using – enjoy using their imaginations. So, do your presentations – and your audiences - a big favour and opt for relatable analogies over techno-speak.



The Internet is awash with infographics and pictorials designed to convey a thought or an idea more powerfully than words ever could. Their on-going success is testament to your ability to glean insight from a visual (hence the age-old expression “a picture speaks a thousand words”). Look for ways to increase your presentation’s ratio of diagrams and pictures to words and phrases. Challenge yourself to tell stories in a way that encourages your audience to paint their own mental images.



“We used to have a phrase jar in my office and if you said one of the cliché phrases you'd have to put some money in the jar!” says a LinkedIn member taking part in a discussion about the drive-you-mad effects of sayings like “touch base” and “ducks in a row”.

If a fun measure like this doesn’t quite work in your office environment, look instead for a team member who sits near you, hears you interact regularly and attends the same meetings, and is willing to pick you up on your use of meaningless workplace-lingo.



“[I hate] ‘let's touch base about that offline’. I think it means have a private chat but I am still not sure.” Respondent to a BBC survey about email jargon


A survey has found that 79% of employees dislike the jargonaut (user of such expressions as “incentivise” and “low-hanging fruit”) more than they do an office gossip. If you’ve worked hard to eliminate such expressions from your meeting-speak, beware of letting them creep into your email communications. 


When you’re spell-checking your e-comms before hitting send, ask yourself if there are any words or phrases you wouldn’t use when talking to your partner or best friend. Swap out all your “going forwards” and “bandwidths” for what you really mean, and you might discover your recipient is all the more amenable to your request.




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