Sometimes, an expression that makes perfect sense to you is completely mystifying to the other person with whom you’re speaking. This happened to me just recently in a conversation I had recently with a prospective client who talked about his “financial footprint.” Actually, I was too embarrassed to ask what a “financial footprint” was. All I could envision in my mind’s eye was the outline of a shoe in the sand or even the mud, covered with dollar signs instead of the usual tread marks.
I really wasn’t sure what exactly he meant by this expression. Were his finances like footprints in the sand, likely to disappear when the next wave came along? Was he leaving too much money behind? Was he leaving too little money? Maybe you know what he was thinking and could enlighten me!
But this conversation got me thinking about other phrases, that I regularly hear from people in business, that make me uneasy. Rather than clarify meaning; these phrases obscure it.
Here’s another expression that I hear frequently that turns me off: “reaching out.” When a person in business whom I contact by phone says to me, “Thanks for reaching out,” my imagination runs wild. I envision myself, at that very moment, “reaching out” to save this person, standing on a precipice, from a nasty fall. Thank goodness I called just in time. So I ask, does “thanks for reaching out” simply mean “thanks for calling”? Or is there some deeper, more complex level of meaning that eludes me?
These days, business conversations are filled with expressions of this sort. Here are some examples:
- On a go forward basis
- Talk offline
- Engagement process
- Action a different outcome
- Leverage our industry-leading relationships
Do you know what these expressions mean? Some, I can guess at. “Engagement process,” has nothing to do with weddings, for example. And “action a different outcome” probably translates as “create a different result.” Or does it? With such imprecise language, it’s really difficult to know. Here are a few tips to help you improve your “professional-relationships” by using direct, clear language.
The Language Lab’s key to precise language
Choose action-oriented verbs: These are verbs that convey a specific meeting. Action-oriented verbs are important when building a resume, but they’re also needed in your daily business communications.
Avoid vague nouns: Vague nouns lead to unnecessarily complex sentences. Here are a few examples of the kinds of nouns not to use.
Avoid additional verbs: Why say, “My manager conducted an investigation into why we like to use jargon” when you could say, “My manager investigated why we like to use jargon.”
Choose the simple word: If you have the option to use a simple word rather than a complicated word, choose the simple word. People are more likely to understand you. (Or as the old joke goes, “eschew obfuscation.”)
Be direct: Why say, “We will endeavor to engage your team in the new online project” when you could say, “we hope to work with you on your website.”
Ultimately, the best way to communicate clearly is to keep language direct and simple. When in doubt, ask yourself, “Is that word necessary?” You may find the response you get from using clear, direct language is better than the response to jargon-laden phrases. In other words, you will have “actioned a different outcome”!
You can learn more about how to avoid business jargon that mystifies and communicate clearly and simply by signing up for one of our Language Lab courses.