Business jargon will kill your client relationships and make you appear untrustworthy. Also it will make you look like an idiot.

That might seem a little extreme but just think about what using business jargon does for a second. Here’s an example:

I did a review of a marketing consultant’s work for a company the other day, part of which involved having a chat with that consultant on the phone and talking through his plans etc. He told me he wanted to “productise, commoditise and legitimise” the assets that the company already had available. Which was particularly entertaining since the things he wanted to productise were already products, but let’s ignore that pesky detail for a second.

What would you think if someone started staying words like that while presenting work to you? It makes them sound like an idiot, right? And not just any old idiot but an idiot that’s trying to use overly complicated, and I would argue slightly made up words, in order to hide something. Because if he didn’t have anything to hide, why wouldn’t he just say what’s he plans to do, i.e. explain in normal everyday language, that is clear and easy to understand, the actual changes he is going to make? Telling me he’s going to “productise, commoditise and legitimise” doesn’t actually tell me anything. I couldn’t tell you what he is going to be doing for the business based on that. There is no benefit to using these words. It just makes the person saying them sound like they’re trying to bamboozle the audience.

This it not how you build good client relationships.

The point of most meetings, reviews, presentations or conversations you have with clients is to communicate something: that could be an idea, the strategy that will be used or what the process will be. It doesn’t matter what it is that is being communicated but the point in those interactions is usually to communicate something.

You therefore need to use clear and precise language that communicates what you actually mean, otherwise you will communicate nothing. Using business jargon does the latter and there are two extremely detrimental potential consequences of this.

The results of using business jargon

When you use business jargon one of two things will happen:

• It will, as we saw above, make you look like you’re full of hot air because it seems like you’re being deliberately unclear and therefore trying to hide something. Possibly your inadequacy. If you knew what you were talking about surely you would just say what you actually mean rather than dancing around it?

• You will make your client feel stupid. This happens when the client doesn’t see through your bs, essentially what jargon is, and instead doesn’t understand (not surprising since you are talking gibberish after all). All this will do is make the client feel stupid and making someone feel stupid is not the way to build a great relationship with them. No one likes to feel stupid

If you’re still not convinced think about when you hear politicians speak (probably shouldn’t be mentioning that one so close to the election but hey), they use a lot of jargon. And they use a lot of jargon most of the time because they’re trying to evade the point and not answer the question. Thinking that if they say enough words that sound fancy people will think that they have answered the question and just assume that if they don’t understand, it’s because they themselves are not smart enough which is why it didn’t make sense to them.

This happens with business jargon all the time, where people talk for minutes but actually haven’t really said anything.

There’s a beautiful example of this in action in the below speech where the presenter manages to talk for 6 minutes without actually saying a thing since he has compiled the speech wholey out of business jargon.

The sad truth is that even if you do have something good, relevant and useful to say, if you use business jargon you risk that message being lost. Focus on communicating clearly and you will sound smart. Trying to sound smart almost never achieves its aim and more often than not results in the exact opposite outcome.

Don’t tell your client’s “you’ll action it by close of play”, tell them what you are actually going to do. Are you going to brief the team, send the client an update or have completed the work? Be specific and use words that actually communicate something.

“The messages around you are so bad, you’ll be surprised how far a little straight talk, humor and storytelling will take you.”

Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, Jon Warshawsky in
Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide

Got any horrific examples of business jargon being used? Let me know if the comments below.


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