Here's Why You Absolutely Have to Stop Using Jargon at Work
Angel funding, crowdsourcing, early adopters, freemium, influencers, thought leadership, going viral: Not that long ago, most of these business buzzwords didn’t even exist. Today, they are often at the very core of our entrepreneurial lingo.
I’m an entrepreneur myself. And I've talked about “thought leadership” and “influencers” -- as recently as yesterday. But yesterday I knew to go wash my mouth out with soap, as my mom used to do to me when I used bad language as a kid. I often wonder how much of a fish out of water my mother -- a longtime special education elementary school teacher -- would feel like today, talking to those of us who hurl these terms around.
The important, if not overly harsh, question might be whether it even matters what my humble schoolteacher mom might think. The answer is that it just might matter a lot for entrepreneurs.
In fact, I seriously believe that non-buzzword users are often the people who will make or break an entrepreneurial venture
Just consider: You know things have gotten out of control when entrepreneurs are being interviewed about the buzzwords entrepreneurs use that drive [the interviewees] crazy. As the Wall Street Journal wrote: "Small-business owners and entrepreneurs are surrounded by a lot of terminology, but not all of it actually means something."
These words make entrepreneurs crazy. But an even better reason to rid ourselves of buzzwords might be non-entrepreneurs like my mom -- a normal, intelligent person who spent none her 30 years in the workforce using these expressions.
After all, these are the people that ultimately need to “adopt” an entrepreneur’s idea, product or business service. So we entrepreneurs just might be depending on ordinary people to clearly understand exactly what our products and their benefits are. And those people might not understand as much of what we're saying as we think.
I'm not the only one worried about jargon.
When I published my book Picking the Low Hanging Fruit … And Other Stupid Stuff We Say In The Corporate World, I was surprised at the response I received from seasoned business professionals in companies of all sizes -- from Fortune 500 ones to startups. Many of them let me know that they had been wondering for years what some of the expressions in my book actually meant.
Here are some examples of those expressions from a promotional line about the book: ... you just feel like drilling down after a nice data dump so you can flesh out a straw dog to help everyone get their ducks in a row and sing from the same song-sheet.
In short, it isn’t just business neophytes or those outside the business world who might not understand.
Sure, we can all figure it out sooner or later. But why put ourselves through that? For entrepreneurs trying to build a business, using buzzword language with customers might resonate with part of our potential customer base but might also be the thing that ultimately limits how big that customer base becomes.
When customers have to dedicate time and energy into figuring out what someone is actually talking about, they are inherently using up time and energy they could be putting toward support of that endeavor or toward the purchase of a really cool new product or service -- some entrepreneur's really cool new product.
Relatability and credibility: Not only do buzzwords not help, they actually hurt you.
The problem doesn’t stop with your simply not being understood. Your very credibility is at stake, in several ways.
First, whenever buzzwords are overused, there's a pervasive undercurrent of skepticism about whether the speaker even knows what he or she is talking about and may be trying to “snow us” with terminology. For years, people have been naturally skeptical of IT for this very reason.
Entrepreneur contributor Jennifer Cohen used humor to show us just what many of us are thinking regularly when we talk with a buzzword abuser. “Sometimes" she wrote, "people will use a buzzword just to cover up the fact that they don’t know what they’re talking about. That guy telling you about synergistic trending going viral on a second screen market? He’s still coming to terms with the idea of hashtags.”
Second, the credibility of the person using the terms can be damaged because his or her language feels inauthentic and doesn’t connect or resonate with people. Rice University’s school of business recently took on buzzwords. In one of its publications, finance professor James Watson said of buzzwords:
“Buzzwords either make simple concepts more confusing or complex concepts more superficial. Generally, buzzwords … are a big red flag to me that a shallow and meaningless argument is about to come my way.’”
For entrepreneurs, the reality is that people are already skeptical about what we're doing -- whether they admit it or not. Whereas it is socially acceptable to be a serial entrepreneur, the second we start talking about growth hacks, second screen experiences and game-changing disruptive technologies, we inadvertently create a language barrier blocking the very people with whom we are trying to establish credibility outside the bubble entrepreneurs inhabit.
Psychological research and the science behind it.
More and more is being written about the importance of leaders being relatable to their employees and stakeholders -- and how this relatability helps build common ground. Researchers have described such common ground as a key foundation for the ability to influence and persuade.
Entrepreneurs need people to identify with them and need to be able to influence and persuade. Often, we're looking for funding and support for ideas that could change the game in a cool way but aren’t yet readily acceptable. Using language that resonates with everyday people is how to accomplish that.
Some observers have written that the buzzwords we think are engaging our audience are actually driving them away. When we overuse terms like “disruption,” “monetization,” “game changer” and even “gamification,” we actually disengage the very audience we need to be engaged in our entrepreneurial endeavors.
What you can do.
Many factors contribute to how successful anyone can be as an entrepreneur. Overusing buzzwords gets in the way more than you might think. It’s much more powerful to simply speak in plain English, especially when you're introducing a new concept -- as entrepreneurs often do.
For me, I often simply think about how I would pitch a concept to my mom. That filter helps me eliminate unnecessary buzzwords every time.