In the New Year, resolve to use less jargon and bring clarity to business conversations.

It can be nice to use impressive terms, but the jargon often does more harm than good to your credibility as a leader. Learn how to remove jargon from your speech so that people understand you.

Image: Gonzalo Aragon / Shutterstock

Jargon has always been a challenge for specialists in their fields. Whether you are a firefighter, soldier, politician, or civic leader, most professions have developed their own subset of language, involving specialized technical terms or meanings different from everyday language. This is especially true for technology leaders, where a “ping” can mean anything from a network packet to a text message to a carefully crafted email.

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Perhaps the most nefarious aspect of the jargon is when a popular term becomes obscured and meaningless, but is used for nods and a respectful agreement between fellow travelers. Words like digital transformation have come to mean everything and absolutely nothing at the same time. Within a single organization, one person’s digital transformation can be a massive shift in the fundamentals of business strategy, while another person can refer to a software upgrade using the same ones. words.

Striving to be clear and cut down on jargon is more than just effective communication. Imagine hiring an expensive supplier for a digital transformation when the stakeholders in your organization have very different goals, objectives, and expectations for what will be produced. At best, your vendor can implement a half-prepared solution that addresses some of the concerns of your stakeholders. At worst, they could explode your budget, chasing unclear requirements and conflicting goals.

Look for clarity rather than agreement

The first step in overcoming the jargon is to reduce our use as leaders. The second step is to seek confirmation and clarity when communicating critical information. For example, if you’re wondering if Todd in accounting understands that he won’t be getting a feature he wanted in new financial software, don’t ask your team if they are “managing expectations with accounting”. Ask your team if Todd understands he’s not getting the feature, and better yet, ask them how they’ll approach Todd and what they’ll communicate.

Simply asking team members how they will approach an issue or what they will do to respond to a request will quickly indicate whether you have communicated clearly. Precede these questions with a comment like, “I just want to make sure I’m communicating clearly. Could you share your understanding and approach? “

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If you say you strive to communicate clearly, these requests will be met with receptiveness rather than with a potential suspicion of not trusting your team.

Use this same technique when meeting peers or leaders within your organization. When someone throws up lingo or an ambiguous term, rather than nodding and hoping you find out later, ask if you can rephrase their request. Start with a comment like, “I would like to test my thinking. It seems that what you are saying is… ”.

Sometimes you catch a jargon junkie throwing a term they don’t necessarily understand when you ask for more clarification. It can create an awkward moment, but if you say something like, “I’m glad we’re having this conversation. I know machine learning (or whatever jargon that has been suggested) means different things to different people, so it’s great that we are “all on the same page.”

Avoid calling people maliciously on jargon and correcting technical definitions, or you will have a reputation as a “jargon policeman” and be excluded from critical discussions while others try to avoid embarrassment.

Try mom’s test

The ultimate test of your ability to use a technical term is to successfully explain the term to someone without a deep level of industrial or technical knowledge. My mother is my typical imaginary example. Before I walk into a meeting ready to extol the virtues of digital transformation or some other mercurial term, I imagine a conversation where I explain what that means in plain English.

If you find yourself struggling with this task, take the time to understand why. I once heard someone define digital transformation as “transformation is digital,” a clearly unsatisfactory response that would fail the Mom Test. Too often we fall into the trap of regurgitating a popular term in the media, among our presumably smart consulting partners, or with those with higher titles. Jumping on the bandwagon may get you approved, but ultimately you set yourself up for failure because you are accepting something that you (and probably many others in the room) cannot fully describe.

If you can articulate a simplified version of what a term means, why it’s beneficial to the listener, and what the risks and rewards are, license yourself now that you can educate your audience and create a shared definition.

Clarity of vision and the ability to communicate that vision in a clear and concise manner are hallmarks of a good, effective leader, especially in complex fields like technology. While the lingo offers the Faustian boon of looking smart at the moment, you’ll be forced to pay the price when no one knows what you’re talking about.

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