While everyone can agree on the necessity of effective communication in the workplace, the style and substance of that communication varies greatly from company to company and, indeed, department to department. Let’s cut to the chase. Put simply, there’s too much jargon used in our workplaces today and it’s having a detrimental effect on employee performance, engagement and possibly even talent acquisition. Let me explain.
What is Workplace Jargon?
‘Blue-sky thinking,’ ‘drink our own champagne,’ ‘push the envelope’ - the list of idiomatic phrases commonly used in the workplace is seemingly endless. Jargon can be found in any business and is often used when there is a need to express a goal or an aim. We have all at some stage come in contact with, or used – willingly or unwillingly - jargon in the workplace.
Of course, it’s not always a phrase – it can also be a single word. Synergy, for example, is a term that is often bandied about in business as a flashy way of referring to good cooperation. Just so that we are all on the same page (excuse the jargon), here are definitions for the first three terms:
Blue-sky thinking: An idea or vision that doesn’t necessarily have a practical application.
Drink our own champagne: Seems to be a very convoluted way of saying a business will use the same product it offers to its customers.
Push the Envelope: To go outside of ones comfort zone.
While this may all seem a little pedantic, the truth is that workplace jargon can have a negative effect on your business, precisely because of its lack of substance.
What’s the Problem With Jargon?
If, like me, you didn’t know what one, or more, of the last phrases meant, well, that’s exactly the problem with workplace jargon. With so many different words and expressions being used in the workplace, and on company websites, it can be very hard for anyone – be it a customer or an employee - to discern exactly what is being said. This lack of clarity has the potential to create all sorts of business problems.
Firstly, employees can get so caught up in the use of these words or phrases and the meaning behind them that the fundamental task at hand is forgotten. Take brainstorming as an example. It’s all well and good having a ‘brainstorm,’ but what is the actual purpose of it? Make sure buzz words are at least substantiated with real, clear and easily understood aims. Don’t get caught up in the jargon and loose sight of what’s really important.
Secondly, abstract buzzwords tend to lose people’s engagement and can even make them more sceptical about what you are saying. It makes sense. The more phrases used in a meeting or on a website that are complicated, convoluted and rife with jargon the less likely you are to either understand or even continue listening to what is being said.
Finally, in HR, especially when dealing with contracts, disciplinary actions and dismissals, language is crucially important. In the worst case scenario, using the wrong language, interacting in the wrong way, or trying to be smart with buzzwords, could land an employer facing an unfair dismissal charge. Especially if the employee has not fully understood why they are being dismissed. In a nutshell, workplace jargon clouds real meaning, and may even be used as a tactic by an employer who is trying to avoid saying things straight. Be on the look out – don’t let people’s workplace jargon pull the wool over your eyes.
What Can Be Done?
Workplace jargon can be tough to get around. The most obvious way of overcoming the buzzwords is by ignoring them. However, ignoring can only go so far, because, to a certain degree, employees have to listen in order to do be doing their jobs effectively.
Therefore, perhaps the best way to combat workplace jargon is to demand clarity. Do not let workplace jargon get to you, ask questions relentlessly and ensure that goals and tasks are adequately defined. Maybe then, those who use too much workplace jargon will get the picture and cut it out. After all, the less abstract the explanation, the more concrete the action.
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