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Is Using Jargon Hindering Your Communication?

by Elise Olding  |  November 21, 2013  |  1 Comment

A big barrier to communication is using language that you are familiar with but may not mean anything to your intended audience. It’s easy to fall into this trap, whether it’s the dreaded TLA’s (three letter acronyms) or technical IT terminology. Whatever the source, it makes for a one-directional conversation and often one that ultimately causes the receivers to shut down and tune out. It makes communications complicated, can leave the receiver feeling foolish because they don’t understand and may be afraid to ask for clarification. All this leads to a “threat” response – not at all the purpose of communication.

A client called today to discuss how to move a business transformation forward. They were challenged with reaching their stakeholders and getting adoption. Given it was a technical implementation it was loaded with jargon and acronyms.  There was a big “AHA” here – on both our parts! Sometimes for me it takes an interaction to realize there is a nugget of value in there, so thought I would share.

So what can you do?  Here are a few tips:

  1.  Jargon check your communication. Look for acronyms and technical language that you may be comfortable with, but your receiver may not. Try it out on someone you trust who will give you feedback.
  2. Step back.  Rather than telling your recipient about what you are going to do, start the conversation with what are their challenges? Create a conversation hook from the start. Let them lead and answer their questions.
  3. Frame your conversation from the business outcome perspective.  How can what you will be doing help them achieve their goals and address their challenges? And…do you even know what those challenges are?

And…the definition of jargon is “gobbledygook” and “nonsense” – so it merits taking time to either remove it or get your concept across in plain, understandable language.

What other tips do you have? How do you “jargon check” your communications? Love to hear from you.


Category: communication  employee-engagement  gartner  organizational-change  

Elise Olding
Research Director
7 years at Gartner
32 years IT industry

Elise Olding is a Research Director covering the complex challenges of organizational change and business transformation from a people perspective. Her areas of focus include organizational change, communications strategies and emerging trends in employee engagement from a hands-on practitioner view. Ms. Olding provides research on a worldwide basis, advising clients on best practices to achieve sustainable change and business transformation. She is a member of Gartner's Business Process and Transformation team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Is Using Jargon Hindering Your Communication?

  1. How true, Elise! As you point out, acronyms also do us a disservice when trying to communicate. Here’s my take on why acronyms cause so much trouble:

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