March 28, 2022
Between the stressful daily commute, the awkward small talk by the coffee machine and the endless hours of face-to-face meetings, there are many things that are unfortunately slowly creeping back into our daily lives as we gradually start heading back to office life. One thing in particular that we have all been dreading is the feeling of utter bewilderment and exasperation when colleagues spout buzzwords and phrases like ‘paradigm shift’, ‘low hanging fruit’, and ‘thinking outside the box’. Corporate jargon is everywhere and we’ve all succumbed to using it at some point in our professional lives, whether it was to ‘leverage a results-driven approach’, ‘give 110%’ to ‘make sure the juice is worth the squeeze’, or ‘circle back’ on an email or conversation.
These phrases are not just grating on the ear, but they’re actually really bad for business. Leadership and senior management teams need to re-evaluate how they communicate internally or else they could seriously jeopardise their business’ overall productivity.
Research conducted a few years ago by the Institute of Leadership and Management found that business jargon is used in two thirds of UK offices, with a quarter of British workers considering it to be a ‘pointless irritation’. If it irritates people so much then, why does everyone use it?
In reality, corporate jargon hasn’t been around for that long, a little over 50 years to be precise. Its emergence can be traced back to the 50s and 60s, when large organisations started becoming more hierarchical and diversified as a result of mergers and acquisitions. As market competition continued to intensify, companies began to take an interest in how to help employees become more productive, efficient and engaged, and as a result started using more colourful language through various buzzwords with the hope of inspiring their staff and giving them more drive and purpose.
The use of jargon in the office doesn’t lead to its desired effect
While these buzzwords may have initially achieved their desired effect, the problem is that over time, their excessive use has completely diluted the meaning of many words and phrases like ‘giving 110%’, meaning they’ve lost both their effect and power.
Many explanations as to why corporate jargon thrives in the modern workplace point to most people simply using it to fit in, or to lend the impression of the user having expertise and intellect. The truth is that most of the time, the use of jargon in the office doesn’t lead to its desired effect, and on the contrary, often creates more confusion and ambiguity in a situation.
Indeed, many studies have suggested that more complicated sentences and obscure words actually hinder communication rather than enhance it, often creating a misalignment between what company leaders intend to communicate and what employees perceive. For instance, ??a survey by JS3 Global revealed a significant lack of understanding of jargon, with only 45% of respondents able to grasp the meaning of various buzzwords. This is especially true for the growing international workforce for whom English is not their first language. In London, for instance, 40% of the city’s workforce was born outside of the UK – that represents a significant proportion of employees that may potentially misunderstand or misinterpret what senior management teams are communicating.
Put simply, business jargon is inherently vague and a very poor form of business communication. When used excessively, it could be really detrimental to your business. Ineffective communication and business jargon can lead to employees feeling like they are excluded by the company and their manager, and can foster a work environment that is devoid of any clarity, credibility or transparency. As a result, employees may feel irritated and left out, leaving them demoralised, contributing to high employee turnover, and draining productivity.
Clear language is a powerful leadership tool
Your company can buy the most innovative communication technology, but effective communication must begin with the language you use. If you want to influence and persuade others and build trust when you communicate, you are almost always better off replacing jargon with clear, powerful language that is more concise, easy to understand and inclusive.
This of course is easier said than done, because most business jargon is so ingrained within us that we often use various buzzwords subconsciously, without even realising. It’s worth spending some time contemplating the ideas you want your audience to understand before you address them. When you do speak, you should pay attention to what you are saying, using simple language, with ample context, specifications, definitions and examples to illustrate expectations. One of the most powerful storytelling methods is to illustrate a concept by using an example or an anecdote. It is a really effective way of keeping a staff or colleagues engaged, whether in a face-to-face meeting, or a company-wide announcement over email.
You don’t need to ditch jargon all together – but ??if you use jargon, use it in small and personal spaces where coworkers and employees feel comfortable asking for clarification, and avoid using jargon in formal, large, and hierarchical situations like meetings.
The bottom line is that the drawbacks of using corporate jargon far outweigh the benefits, and it is vital that management teams look to limit the use of jargon in the office if they want to foster a more productive, collaborative and inclusive workplace. Language is a powerful leadership tool, and when implemented in the right way, it can be truly transformative for your business.
Main image by David Mark