The big problem with business-speak - 'repeatability' (ref 82)

Today's email is on jargon. Technical jargon can be great, it’s a conversational shortcut. The word facultative helps those in insurance. Stochastic helps actuaries. WiT is jargon. Of course, use only if your readers know the jargon. And remember: never overestimate people’s knowledge - but never underestimate their intelligence. Don’t patronise people (and that means: "talking down to people").

Then there’s bad jargon. Business-speak. Often, we use it to hype. E.g. (1) “ABC is a unique sizeable market player with unmatched marketing and entrenched relationships with a diversified and quality customer base.” Or (2) “Our aim is to enhance the competitiveness of your business by exploring innovative solutions for risk reduction.” (Both these really existed.) Such nonsense is wrong for so many reasons.

It encourages lazy thinking: “We’re excited to launch our new widget!” Just because we’re excited about it, it doesn’t mean others are. No. Think of the readers’ emotions, not ours – think of a reason why they should be excited. Then again, I suppose it’s easier to trot out tired hyperbole than bother with thinking. 

It bores and leaves little imprint: people see it and give up. Eyes glaze over, brains shut down. Did you properly read examples (1) and (2) above?

It wastes times and annoys: when we decode it, we realise it says little. Example (2) above just says: “We help you reduce risk”.

It dehumanises: it sounds as if it was written not by a human, but by a corporate robot (a corpbot, perhaps).

It fails to convince – and often that’s because it’s devalued from overuse. No-one ever says: “Let’s award the contract to them – they say they’re innovative”. Everyone says they're innovative.

This last point – fails to convince – is key. When pitching bosses with our project, we claim it: “enhances client experience, implements better stakeholder engagement, and facilitates horizon-scanning”. ('Horizon-scan'... it's a phrase I increasingly hear.) The words... they're so abstract. Which means:

(1) They don't connect. Few of us suffer sleepless nights, thinking: “I wish I could implement better stakeholder engagement”. Few of us stride to work, thinking: “Today, I’ll horizon-scan!”. The phrases struggle to make us feel anything.

(2) They lack repeatability. This is a term about scientific testing, but I’ve hijacked it to mean: “After someone sees your talk or report, can they easily repeat the main bits to others?”  Repeatability matters because every boss has a boss, and after your boss reads your report, they’ll bump into their boss who’ll ask: “That report you just read… any good?” Your boss will never say: “Good” unless they have easy unprompted recall of its main bits. And we don't have that when we read abstract business-speak, “Well..." your boss says, "there was something about an 'enhanced client experience'… I think”.

Business-speak has a short half-life. When we read it in a report, it seems to make sense (“it facilitates horizon-scanning”). Ten minutes later though, we’re less sure of what it meant. Ten minutes after that, it’s all a bit of a blur. A distant memory. Nothing has stuck. It lacks repeatability.

What to do instead? That's for another day. Or - rather - another email.

 

PS Try this as a 'jargon' summary: "Use the business’s jargon, not the jargon of business".

PPS The Today programme on BBC Radio 4 is great at exposing business jargon. Recently, an interviewee mentioned his "supply chain efficiencies", and the interviewer said: “Which means…??”. Wonderful. Also recently, they didn’t even let someone get away with the acronym KPIs.

Clarity and Impact Ltd | +44 20 8840 4507 | jon@jmoon.co.uk | www.jmoon.co.uk

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