How Business Jargon Changes the Way We Think

By Andrew Hendricks

I want to have a dialogue with you about some new paradigms for us to utilize as a company. I think if we really hit the ground running we can most effectively monetize our stratagems in the marketplace. Let's run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.

If you have an overwhelming roll your eyes, that is because you understand that mindlessly substituting three-dollar words for common sense language is no way to effectively communicate with people! Business jargon is something that is seeing more common parlance these days. This phenomenon is so rampant that seeing a headline like Five Ways to Leverage Your Verticals, Synergize Your Team, and Shift Your Paradigm, one can only hope the title is ironic!

There is nothing wrong with having a hefty vocabulary or using jargon regularly—but only if it serves a purpose. The way you speak and the words you choose to use can make a great impact on the person or customer you’re talking to in the business world. When you find yourself using jargon in the business world, ask yourself if it is really having the effect you intend. Are you just parroting nonsense words to seem like a better manager? Are you using technical language to explain a technical subject? Or in the case of Apple and their “geniuses,” are you using jargon to obfuscate your meaning?

In an attempt to separate Apple products from the accepted terminology that comes with computer devices and their accepted problems. Apple Genius training manuals include a list of banned words and suggested replacements. “Geniuses can say that an application "unexpectedly quits" or "does not respond," but are not allowed to say that the software "crashed." Similarly, there can be a "condition," an "issue" or a "situation," but not a "bug" or a "problem.”

Or as George Orwell might say, your bricked iPad is double-plus not good.

As annoying as retail jargon can be (I'm a customer at a fast food joint, not a guest!) we must remember not to be too judgmental when we see our peers slip into this habit, however, as it is one which we are undoubtedly also guilty of from time to time. It is not a personality flaw to use office parlance from time to time, however much like Apple's use of jargon for obfuscation, jargon can often be a substitute for any meaning at all. U.C. Berkeley Business professor Jennifer Chatman said in a 2012 Forbes interview “People use it as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others.”

Rejecting this broad admonishment of jargon, Nature.com's Trevor Quirk says that writers and business professionals shouldn't fear jargon, and understand that it has its place and its utility. “People seem to resent not just specialized language, Quirk writes, “but any language that requires a large degree of labour to understand, appreciate and use.”

Quirk isn't wrong that there is a definite mistrust that can occur when we hear jargon being used. A recent study: “If you want to come across as a straight shooter, the study's authors suggest, stick as much as possible to simple language that's easy to visualize—concrete verbs like 'write' or 'walk' beat ambiguous ones like 'benefit' and 'improve.'”

One can see the difference between the good and the bad kind of jargon. If you know that you can condense a lot of technical information into some jargon because you're talking to a peer with the same contextual knowledge, there really is no offense, and the simplest way to communicate is generally the most advisable. What you want to do is risk slipping into that other category of jargon, where your language is doing the opposite of providing elucidation.

Andrew Hendricks

Editor-in-Chief and founder of HumanCreativeContent.com, a website that serves as a hub for freelancers to get new material workshopped and published, as well as an on-demand content platform for websites and new businesses.