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Don’t Let Business Jargon Get in the Way of Good Communication

Friday, 18 July 2014

Entrepreneurs and business managers hardly need reminding of the importance of communicating well. Whether it is dealing with customers, suppliers, shareholders, employees or regulators, good communication is vital and can mean the difference between success and failure.

Business jargon plays a double edged role in the work environment. On the one hand it enables people to display their understanding and belonging to a particular type of group, on the other it can alienate other stakeholders that are just as important to a business.

Seasoned litigators usually have countless tales of disputes that could have been avoided with better communication. So although jargon has its place, its use must be carefully balanced to avoid problems.

Jargon: Technical Language or Avoiding the Subject?

Many businesses deal with technical subjects which mean that the use of particular vocabulary is unavoidable. Engineering companies for example may deal with concepts or products that are not familiar to people in everyday language.

Another example is finance where there intangible products and services exist that ordinary people have not heard of or do not necessarily understand. The financial crisis brought home to the wider public just how foreign some of the language used in finance actually is as with concepts like securitization and derivatives, and acronyms such as CDS (Credit Default Swaps) and MBS (Mortgage Backed Securities), spilling beyond the walls of financial institutions into the mainstream media.

There is a line that needs to be drawn though between the technical language that is necessary when dealing with technical subjects and the jargon that follows in its wake. This is obviously a grey area but can perhaps be identified most easily in areas of business that have technical qualities but often do not require a new vocabulary of their own. Management is a prime example.

Management theory and other concepts MBAs might learn in business school undoubtedly have technical aspects to them. But if that leads the day to day management being awash in a sea of jargon it may be counter-productive. What’s more it is often perceived as a way of avoiding dealing with difficult subjects directly.

Jargon Busting

Take the following expressions: “transitioning staff”, “disestablishing staff”, “demising staff”; do they really help in the context of laying off staff or do they simply make the person or business doing the firing feel slightly better to the further consternation of sacked employees?

Or these: “affordable portable lifestyle beverage” and “hair management system” meaning water and a swimming cap respectively. Are they likely to help customers better understand these products?

Other more general management terms include the likes of “alignment”, “road-map” and “bandwidth” which may mean different things to different people.

Although technical language is often unavoidable, excessive use of meaningless or obfuscating expressions can have the effect of alienating people. In some cases this might be the intention – financiers and others hauled before regulatory committees for example – but in other contexts such as managing employees or dealing with customer complaints it can cause serious difficulties.

Taken to an extreme, poor communication can end up with parties escalating issues unnecessarily into commercial, employment or other forms of litigation. Instructing an experienced lawyer early on in disagreements can help avoid this sort of escalation by introducing parties to alternative methods of dispute resolution that are less adversarial and offering dispassionate advice. For specialist advice contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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