Certain industries seem to thrive upon developing obscure acronyms, annoying abbreviations, and specialized terms that outsiders are not likely to understand. The use of this specialized language, often referred to as jargon, has the potential to create huge communication problems when business spans across different industries.
Whether you notice it or not, no matter what industry you work in, you probably use jargon every day at work. Jargon doesn't discriminate!
We're certainly not off the hook at Ocreative Design Studio. In fact, professionals in the IT industry (web sector included) are especially notorious for using jargon. I certainly use my fair share: AJAX, PHP, HTML, CSS, CMS, SSH, DNS, MySQL - and, yes, I'm just getting warmed up. While this kind of jargon makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (it's okay if you don't feel that way), is it appropriate to use this kind of language with a customer?
The answer: Of course not!
Jargon functions best as internal shorthand for industry members. While there is a chance that a customer outside our industry may understand our jargon, is it worth the risk? Is it worth making our customers feel unintelligent if they do not understand our jargon? Probably not.
Don't get me wrong - I understand why people are prone to using jargon with customers. Communication isn't easy, and jargon becomes habitual over time. It's also easier to fall back on what comes "natural" than to critically analyze and practice how to clearly convey complex ideas to customers. Even so, wouldn't it be nice to know that our customers understand us? I think so, and so does MindTools.com.
If you're interested in more information on how to minimize your use of jargon with customers, read the excerpt below from MindTools.com. It gives some great tips on how to identify and bust out of bad jargon habits!
Excerpt from MindTools' article - Jargon Busting:
Here are some common uses of jargon. Which ones do you use?
Communicating with others in your field/group
It's okay, within reason, to use jargon for this, but be sure that everyone really does understand. Use jargon when it helps convey specialist information, and avoid it at other times.
People often use jargon simply because they are not thinking - it becomes a (bad) habit. Jargon that's appropriate within you team or specialist group is often unintelligible to outsiders, such as your customers or members of your family.
Trying to impress
Jargon rarely impresses intelligent people. You are more likely to create the impression of "trying to impress" than "being impressive". Others may see it as insincere or irritating.
Distracting from facts or knowledge
Some people drop into jargon when they want hide the truth, lessen the magnitude of something, or make it sound more impressive. This is best avoided as it's sure to be spotted. Experienced businesspeople may reject jargon-ridden communication for this very reason.
Distracting from lack of knowledge
Sometimes it's unintentional but when you're unsure or under pressure, you might give a jargon-filled answer rather than a straight one. Again, it's best to avoid this as it gives a bad impression.
Trying to fit
Using the same language as others is natural when your trying to build rapport, so jargon may have a place here. But beware! Only use jargon that you fully understand, and that you know is understood by everyone in your audience (not just the ones you want to impress.)
The first step to avoiding unnecessary jargon is to be aware of when you use it. Check through the jargon traps above. Do you tend to fall into any of these? And if so, when?
Perhaps it's when you are in a particular type of meeting, when you're under pressure, or when you are talking with a particular person or group. Perhaps you use company jargon when talking to people outside your organization.
Once you have identified when you tend to use jargon, think about the things you actually say. A good way to do this is to look back at letters, emails, or speeches you have written; or think back to a specific conversation you have had; or even ask someone you know to comment. What specialist words, phrases, expressions, acronyms and abbreviations do you commonly use? Are they necessary and understandable to your intended audience?
The final step is to think about alternatives to the unnecessary jargon you use: Ask yourself what you could say differently to make things clearer. For questions you frequently answer with jargon, practice alternative answers that are as simple and clear as possible.
For the full article, go here: http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/JargonBusting.htm.
Jargon photo courtesy of E!Sharp: http://www.peoplepowerprocess.com/jargon.htm