Beyond Buzzwords

Keep your language simple and your message will have a more profound impact.

Keep your language simple and your message will have a more profound impact.

In our previous lives, the addie ninjas taught English to Speakers of Other Languages. The most important thing we learned in preparing for the career and then during teaching was to keep language simple. Simplicity here does not mean being condescending and dumbing things down, rather it meant that we needed to be mindful of our jargon and other specialized vocabulary, so that our students who were not familiar with the terms would not feel isolated. Similarly in our presentations and roles as trainers/ facilitators, we try to be mindful of the acronyms and jargon so that we don’t lose our audience.

The issue of specialized language especially when it comes to acronyms and buzzwords is worthy of our attention in the business world also, because often times the buzzwords sound great but they hold no meaning. Language is about communicating, so that you are understood. When we cloak our message in jargon and buzzwords, we are eliminating that understanding because inevitably there are people who do not understand the meaning of what is being said. Furthermore, it is not just a removal of comprehension rather it can add to miscommunication and misunderstanding by creating divisions.

For instance, one buzzword that is used across industries is “silos”. Nearly every meeting or presentation that I attend, discusses the silos that are present and that these silos are a root for many institutional problems. The first time I heard that term, my mind immediately turned to the traditional concept of the grain silos and I imagined these large cylindrical structures. So powerful was that image that it immediately lumped every department into an us vs. them context even though that feeling hadn’t been there before. Prior to picturing us all in our own separate cylinders, the possibility of collaboration and fixing or resolving the issues seemed within reach but now the problem larger, insurmountable even.   

Other ways jargon can create misunderstandings is when a new employee joins a company. The employee’s adjustment and understanding of a company and their job can be hampered if they are barraged with acronyms and terminology that is specialized to the department or the company. For a newbie, it can be intimidating to ask what each thing means and can make the employee feel hesitant to keep asking because he/she does not want to come across as incompetent. Therefore, making the adjustment to the job harder for the employee and the company.

Sometimes we find ourselves in the trap of using buzzwords because we feel that it makes us appear smarter or adds more credence to our message. We, the addie ninjas, would counter that in keeping your language simple and connecting with the audience through using examples and storytelling, your message will have a longer and more profound impact.  

Zaimah Khan