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.
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.