Recently I was invited to provide media training for a professional team who were preparing to launch a scheme to align their services more specifically to customer needs.
So far so good. I enjoy helping people to make their messages attractive to media and coaching them to deliver those messages with conviction and impact.
But on the Sunday before the training I started looking at the background reading they had sent me – and it practically ruined my day.
Not only did I have difficulty in getting to grips with the messages, as set out in a lengthy and impenetrable document – I couldn’t even understand the press release designed to simplify those messages for journalists!
Wading through a muddy field of jargon
Every sentence was weighed down so heavily with business jargon that attempting to read it felt like wading through a muddy field after several days of hard rain.
Of course I couldn’t tell them this, but if I had been confronted with such a press release as a busy journalist up against a tight deadline I would have binned it in favour of something simpler, more accessible and more obviously newsworthy.
Jargon is defined (by Wikipedia) as ‘a type of language that is used in a particular context and may not be well understood outside of it’.
Jargon may allow for greater precision of communication between people who work in a specific industry or profession. But ‘a side effect of this is a higher threshold for comprehensibility, which is usually accepted as a trade-off but is sometimes even used as a means of social exclusion…or social aspiration (when intended as a way of showing off)’.
Jargon works against inclusion
In other words jargon is sometimes – intentionally or otherwise – used to obfuscate rather than to clarify, to exclude rather than include, and is therefore doubly unsuitable for use in external communications.
My own belief is that people often use jargon when they want to be perceived as powerful and important. And, depressingly, they may succeed in generating these perceptions.
According to a recent study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, participants in a series of experiments ‘perceived respondents as more powerful when they used more abstract language (vs. more concrete language)’.
If that’s true I find it a dispiriting thought. And even if abstract language (for which I read
jargon) impresses insiders, that doesn’t make it appropriate for communicating with people outside that charmed circle where the overriding goal is to be understood.
Any fool can make things complicated
I’m with Woody Guthrie in believing that ‘Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple’.
And also with the ever-quotable Einstein, who reportedly said that: ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’.
Then again, if everyone expressed themselves with perfect clarity and simplicity there would be no need for people like me to help them hone their communication skills. Now there’s food for thought!
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