Your Enemy to Being Understood? Jargon!

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation and not understanding a word that’s being said? Acronyms, technical terms and trendy phrases are thrown around as if everyone should know what they mean. It’s jargon, and it’s getting out of hand.

Jargon Causes Confusion

Jargon

Years ago, I watched as a doctor used the term “palliative care” (another term for end-of-life care), while discussing a patient with her family. Now, unfortunately, the family thought this was a treatment that would lead to a cure for the patient’s cancer. You can imagine their devastation when they discovered what the doctor was saying.

This week, I was forwarded an email that contained information from a sales professional explaining a proposal for a new website. The email’s author talked about a “firewall that blocks FTP traffic”, “blacklisting IPs that fail authentication”, “responsiveness”, and “SEO”. Overwhelmed, the recipient forwarded the email to me for my “thoughts”.

Jargon is an enemy of everyone, and I mean everyone! Witnessing my teenager’s explanation of how Snapchat works when his dad inquired about the recent cover story in Time Magazine had me giggling. Facial algorithms, graphic overlays and a bunch of other terms that came from my son’s mouth, when “It’s an app on your phone, Dad, and it’s pretty fun,” would have sufficed.

Jargon Causes Confusion and Alienation

At best, jargon confuses people and at worst it makes them feel stupid, uneducated and inferior. And, when you use it, you run the risk of alienating your audience.

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 14 percent of the United States’ population can’t read, and 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, while 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read. Those are important statistics to understand as you consider the terms you use.

Here are tips:

  • Never assume that people understand your technical terms until they show you their understanding. And, remember that some folks will acknowledge understanding so that they don’t look ignorant. Err on the side of over-explaining, rather than under-explaining.
  • The key to ensuring understanding is to know your audience. If you’re addressing an audience of people in your field, or who share your passion, you can assume a level of understanding that allows for complex or technical terms. If the audience is broad, jargon will be your undoing.

Remember, your message is completely lost when you aren’t understood.

How We Socialize

I’ve been watching the news every day with anticipation for the latest Tweets from our President-Elect Trump. I know I’m not alone!

Communicate through social media

Social Media is our form of communication today

Whether you’re cheering his words, or shaking your head in dismay, there’s one thing for certain; Donald Trump is addicted to Twitter and we better get used to it, because this is how he’s going to speak to us.

Twitter has been around long enough now that people have gotten comfortable with communicating in 140 characters. These little written “sound bites” have forced us to get to the point quickly.

We have discovered that pictures and videos can say what words never could, so we post them to Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube, with no hesitation. Heck, now you can even speak to a full audience – hundreds and thousands of people – live whenever you like! Our political leaders have jumped on the opportunity to speak directly to us – minus the press’ filter – through Facebook Live. This is how we socialize!

When I train executives on how to speak to reporters, I tell them to put their most salient points into short, easily digested phrases. Give the reporter a heads up that the phrase is coming with something like “And, what I want people to really understand…” and then let the phrase rip.

What I don’t encourage them to do is speak in a stream of thought – to say whatever flashes through their heads. I teach them to take a breath and consider their words, to put up a yield sign in their brains before speaking.

Social media is a profoundly effective communicating tool. I would argue in several cases that we have never had a tool that has worked as successfully as social media.

But, there is the other side of social media that presents a challenge. Too often, people are lulled into the comfort of a quick way to communicate and forget that their words are on the Internet for the world to see. Once out there, they can’t be taken back. Far too many celebrities, business leaders and politicians have learned that lesson the hard way.

So, here’s my advice, and it’s the same advice I give my teen-aged son. If you wouldn’t say it to your mother, don’t post it on Twitter!