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What Is Your Gibberish Component?
Guest articles > What Is Your Gibberish Component?
by: Thejendra BS
A caveman sees a saber toothed tiger approaching his cave. What did he communicate to his wife and kids?
Did he scream, "RUN AND HIDE !!!"
Or should he have said?
“Folks, I see an immediate threat from a ferocious creature seeking palatable items to fulfill his non-negotiable needs, which poses a serious danger and disruption to all of us. It is imperative that we take immediate action to mitigate the grave risk by urgently harnessing the power of our legs.”
Which one would have communicated the message better to his family? Back in the stone ages the first sentence would have produced the necessary results. But in our modern times it is doubtful whether such a plain and simple sentence would have been considered acceptable as proper communication. Today the word "communication" is a common buzzword in all business environments worldwide. Secondly, the need for effective communication has also become a top priority among all business leaders. And as an employee at any level you would have definitely attended (or conducted) heaps of communication sessions on various business or customer issues. Worldwide organizations are also spending millions of dollars every year on corporate communications in every conceivable and innovative flavors. And they will normally be in the form of team meetings, intranets, brochures, speeches, emails, slide presentations, workshops, offsites, video presentations, etc. Naturally you will agree that a lot of effort, time and money are required for such activities. However, there is still something that always bothers most employees. It happens to all of us in the business world everyday. You read a company brochure, a corporate communication, a strategy or a business proposal from head to toe, and then you read it again and perhaps again. But all you get is a feeling that you are simply reading the words without any meaningful information entering your brain. Or in some cases you attend a flashy business presentation, or a seminar or a business speech by a management guru that lasts for an hour. You remember walking in with a lot of hope and anticipation, but always end up walking out blank, confused and unable to remember anything the speaker spoke for more than an hour. After it is over you begin to think, "I don't understand. What exactly was the speaker talking about? What exactly do I need to do?" But you feel embarrassed to ask for clarification or what exactly was it. Why was it all fuzzy to you? You may also begin to wonder if there is something wrong with your brain for being unable to understand what was being said. Or think the stuff they are presenting is too advanced and beyond your humble capabilities, and perhaps not for ordinary mortals. So where is the problem? To get the answer just keep reading.
You may be surprised to know that worldwide millions of employees experience the same confusion and fuzziness as you do in every modern workplace everyday, but are simply too embarrassed or even scared to admit it. If you are one such employee in any workplace I suggest you stop worrying about your situation. Frankly, there is nothing wrong with you as we shall shortly see. And there is no need to visit any brain surgeon, psychiatrist or refresh your grammar. The problem does not lie with you. The culprit is actually business jargon. So what exactly is business jargon? A general dictionary defines jargon as, "Unintelligible or meaningless talk or writing, gibberish. Any talk or writing that one does not understand." And business jargon is the art of talking (or writing) about various business issues using complicated and confusing words. Usage of jargon is the root cause of miscommunication in most modern organizations. Going one step further businesses today simply don't use easy and simple words to convey a message. Instead they use complex, complicated and often meaningless words to impress the recipients. They use all kinds of big words, nonsense words and gibberish in the hope of impressing their audiences with their superior intellect. Or they try to prove they are selling something unique or revolutionary. It is this jargon that is the root cause of miscommunication worldwide. However, without realizing jargon as the root cause of miscommunication, employees in most modern organizations mistakenly complain there is no communication at all from their management. But there is actually enough communication happening all around to drown you to the depths of the earth. In fact, managements today do take enormous pain and effort in dumping truckloads of communication on their employees, shareholders, company websites, brochures, advertisements, etc. What is clearly lacking is a simple easy to understand message from the communicator that everyone in the intended audience can understand. So when employees complain that there is lack of communication it actually means that information is not available in an understandable manner.
Today jargon and hype is killing effective communications in most modern organizations. Heavy usage of business jargon is the single biggest reason for complete failure of communications in organizations worldwide, often leading to disastrous results. Realistically speaking, commonly used business statements and phrases like, "We deliver superior value and competitive advantage by focusing on our core competencies" has absolutely no meaning, or it can mean different things to different people. However, it has become a fashion in most organizations to use complex and colorful words in most business areas. Just visit any business website and you only see plenty of meaningless colorful words, self congratulatory sentences and lot of self trumpeting about their products, services and the special breed of vibrant people they have. Words like synergy, value add, core, catalyst, vision, mission, information-centric, people oriented, horizontal and vertical solutions, etc., are commonly and generously used in every brochure, presentations, websites, speeches, etc., to give the audience an impression of superiority. For example, if you are buying any product, service or just about anything on websites these days it is nearly impossible for you to get the required essential details like specifications, cost, etc., quickly without first wading though several kilometers of jargon describing how great the company is, its fantastic ever smiling people, their immense passion for serving you and so on.
The Risks of Jargon: The harm that jargon can cause may not be immediately obvious to many. But it can have a corrosive effect and cause more problems than a total lack of communications. Some of the not so obvious problems jargon and hype can create are as follows.
1. Message gets lost: Organizations and business leaders these days fear simplicity and that is why they try to make things complex by using business jargon, complex words and so on. Very often business speakers try to dazzle their audience with high sounding words, colorful presentations and all sorts of gimmicks in the hope of doing effective communications. But usually they end up doing exactly the opposite, which is ineffective communication, confusion and brainwashing the audience. When colorful language and complicated words are used the real message gets lost or buried so deep that no one can understand. There will be plenty of talk, but no clear message. Secondly it bores and confuses the listener. In many cases the message gets twisted out of shape, can convey different meanings to different people and can lead to reading in between the lines to spread rumors. People will not be able to ask appropriate questions or cannot ask any questions at all because nothing is clear. Or a few smart ones will ask some more jargon filled questions to get some more jargon filled answers. But it makes things only complicated and does not serve the purpose. If you want to convey the message you should be straight and simple like Reagan used to talk. For example, during the cold war era, President Reagan told Gorbachev, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” He was referring to the Berlin wall that divided east and west Germany. He did not beat around the bush with empty words like many diplomats do.
2. Attracts liars and cheats: Jargon is often the backdoor for liars, cheats and hollow people to enter organizations. For example, it is quite common to see most job ads like, “We are looking for high value employees dedicated to delivering constant innovation to assist our clients in high performance delivery and meet our strategic goals. The employee must be a class of his own and raise his or her sights above the horizon. He or she must be a people leader who has the challenge to outdo themselves and be a global winner all the way to confidently swim in an ocean of opportunities.” Assume two qualified candidates apply for a particular job or position in an organization. The normal method is to interview the candidate based on the resume they submit. Now assume one candidate has a simple and straightforward resume, while the other submits a fancy one with lots of colorful words and sentences that trumpet and glorifying the routine (or even mediocre) work done in his previous job. In all probability the candidate with the fancy resume will be able to clinch the job with his or her choice of words that can impress the interviewer. Hype and jargon can portray a picture that the candidate has a keen grasp of the big picture, an excellent leader, a supreme intellectual, etc. For example a fancy sentence like, “I was the key leader and catalyst for enhancing customer centric business landscapes" stated in a pompous manner can make the interviewer fall off his chair mesmerized. But the actual work in all probability will not be rocket science or something that ordinary mortals cannot do or learn. However the other candidate who tries to explain his work in ordinary and real world terms will definitely lose his chance for the job, while the bogus chap will get selected. Soon every job advertisements in the organization will become complicated and confusing, and will prevent honest people from applying for such jobs. This is because honest and knowledgeable people applying to such positions may feel, “Oh my god, they are expecting to hire some fancy rocket scientist who can innovate daily. I don’t think I can do that.” So organizations end up hiring liars, cheats, bogus people and hot air specialists.
3. Jargon corrupts everyone: Business jargon is not only confusing and misleading, it is also very contagious. If you work in any modern organization you will soon start talking and writing hot air. You can no longer speak plain English. Once jargon and hype becomes the standard in an organization, it will no longer be possible for any employee or department to conduct meetings, seminars, presentations, etc., without the necessary dosages of colorful words and gibberish. You soon become terrified of simplicity. Anyone who uses ordinary words or refuse to join the language insanity will be classified as a simpleton who will not be suitable for managing large teams, big projects, deal with the top brass, and so on.
4. Delay and Money: You can’t shoot a target you can’t see. Similarly you can’t do what you don’t understand. Organizational decision making and speed suffers as even the most trivial of reports, proposals, decisions and output gets delayed because it does not contain the necessary dosages of jargon. So organizations waste time, money and effort in trying to meet each other’s expectations and requirements that is not available in an easy simple to use language.
So what can you do to make communication effective?
The key to effective communication is straightforwardness and the use of simple words. Winston Churchill, one of the most straightforward talking leaders history has produced would say, “If you have an important point to make, don't try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time-a tremendous whack.” This should be your approach to communication, though you may not need a pile driver at all times.
For communication to occur two parties are required. One is the person saying
or writing something, and the other is the person listening or reading it.
Depending on who you are at the moment you can do your bit to avoid jargon and
make the communication clear.
If you are the communicator:
1. Your message will be clearly heard only if you use plain language and simple words that people can remember. So ask yourself whether you genuinely intend to convey the message and communicate, or you just want to impress others with your keen grasp of colorful and complicated words. .
2. Business jargon has been a laughing matter for years and will make you look like a bogus person. Remember that the actual work people do is quite different from the bogus and fancy job descriptions associated with it. Just because you are a senior person you do not have to use complicated words to get something done. Remember juniors, newcomers and spectators will not openly tell you they did not understand anything, but will laugh at you behind your back.
3. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you use simple words. Remember if a million people say a foolish thing it is still a foolish thing. So just because every businessman you know or see talks gibberish, you don’t have to join the bandwagon to survive.
4. If you are just a postman conveying someone's message first make sure you have clearly understood what is to be said so that you don't pass the wrong message.
5. Ask yourself, do you talk like that at home or with your neighbors and relatives? Can you really talk like that at home? Unless it is confidential, print a copy and show it to your mom or wife and ask if they can understand what is written. If they say "Duh !!!" then you get the point.
6. Employees avoid managers and leaders who talk gibberish. So become a
person that ordinary people can connect with and approachable for help and
advice. Today people already suffer from information overload and hype. They
don’t want more of such stuff and crave for simplicity.
If you are the listener:
As a listener or a recipient you need to think about what choices you have to accept or prevent jargon. Remember jargon is mainly used by senior people and management gurus. You will very rarely hear junior employees speaking jargon.
1. If you are sitting and listening to a general business speech then jargon may not impact you much. However, with one-on-one discussions with customers, bosses, supervisors, etc., you should never accept jargon without asking probing questions that will give you a realistic picture of what needs to be done. Peter Drucker once said, "My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few simple questions." So become a Drucker and ask simple questions, even dumb ones if necessary for better clarification. Do not hesitate to state you did not understand something. Dumb questions are better than making false and wrong assumptions that lead to disastrous end results.
2. Not accepting jargon may not be possible as it is mainly used by senior people and management gurus. If it is just some generic advice you can probably ignore it as nobody will remember it six hours later. In all probability the communicator will not be able to repeat the exact same sentence again if it was filled with jargon. But if there is real work to be done you will need clear information to start. So if you are dumped with jargon you should try to rephrase it into simple terms and ask the teller, "This is what I understood. Correct me if I am wrong."
3. Remember one thing. Unless you are not paying attention, communication is all about understanding the message right by the intended audience in a manner everyone can fully understand. But if you know the subject and do not understand even when paying attention, it is either dripping with jargon or it is about a subject that you are not familiar with. For example, a botanist can talk a simple sentence mixed with biology terms, which you may not understand. That is understandable and cannot be called bad communication.
Finally, we can conclude this article with a quote from Leonardo da Vinci who said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Thejendra BS is an IT manager and author from Bangalore, India. He scribbles mild and wild articles on technology, business management, self improvement and wacky humor that get published on many reputed websites and syndicated through various RSS feeds around our planet. He has also published diverse books like Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity, Practical IT Service Management, Corporate Wardrobe-Business Humor Series and Life-365-A Year's Supply of Wisdom, Tips & Advice. Visit his web cave www.thejendra.com for his free articles and details of his books.
Contributor: Thejendra BS
Published here on: 12-Oct-08