Jargon – Is it helping or hurting?

Jargon and acronyms fill the business world.  Lean has an entire vocabulary such as 5S, kaizen, Kanban, and hoshin kanri.  EOS™ uses terms like rocks and Level 10™.

Then we can throw in the acronyms: DOH, OTD, DSO, PPM, TTM, CAGR, PM,  just to name a few.

We could go through every department in a company and find similar linguistic oddities.

Oh, I almost forgot the unusual code names we give projects, like Chicago or Skyblue, which is almost always is followed by “Remind me.  What is that project?”

Do these language tools help, or hurt?  The purpose is to either impart a unique meaning because no other word entirely does the job or to provide a shortcut so that we don’t need to write or say the entire phrase.  The intent is to make our communication clearer and more efficient, but does it?

As a consultant, when I go to a new client, I often feel like I’m learning a foreign language.  If you’ve ever traveled to a foreign country where they speak broken English (thank goodness that they took the effort to learn some English), you know how fatiguing it can be to listen very intently to try and understand the words that don’t quite make sense.  That’s what it feels like with a new client.

Is my experience much different than that of your new employees?  Are they fatigued trying to understand what people are saying because the organization is using jargon and acronyms?  Worse yet, are they just pretending to understand because they don’t want to slow things down and ask, “What does that word mean?”

There’s a balance to be struck.  Some of these language tools help, but like all good things, when they are overused, they become a weakness.

When you write your next email, really look at the words you use and challenge yourself about whether you’re striking the right balance.  Are the shortcuts and jargon you use clarifying or obfuscating?

Personally, I believe that we need to swing the pendulum back towards using more words that people already understand rather than requiring everyone to learn the language of a specific company, department, or program, but that’s just me.

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