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Words Matter: Why Clear Communication Could Help Seal Your Next Deal

Why business jargon can cost you business.
Columnist, American Express OPEN
June 28, 2017

The 800-pound gorilla in the room. That's an example of business jargon folks use to refer to something that we need to talk about but don't. I'm not sure why this bit of jargon exists. Maybe because it's fun to say. Or maybe someone likes the visual (though I'm not a fan of imagining an enormous gorilla wandering any room I'm in.)

Language is a huge part of how employees and potential clients connect with you and your brand. The words you choose when speaking to a team member or pitching a client—from clichés to overused buzzwords and acronyms—could cost you business. You may want to slay that overweight gorilla and its pink elephant friend and instead use words and phrases that help your audience connect with you. A little straight talk just may make it easier for them to say yes to you and your brand.

The Truth About Business Jargon

Have you ever been in front of a prospective client who you wanted to trust you? You probably spent a lot of time practicing what you wanted to say—talking to yourself in the car, in your kitchen or in the bathroom, crafting multiple perfect things to say at just the right time. You want to speak with authority, especially when you're meeting someone or talking to an audience who has no history with you.

So you reach for the business jargon, thinking these well-known phrases will let folks know that you're in the know. You think, I know this stuff and I'm not afraid to show it. That's how we get statements like this:

"We want you to think outside the box and that's why we're here to peel the onion. This way, you can really see what's under the hood and how it got you off course. Let's get you back in your lane with our line of services."

What? C'mon. You know you've been in a room where words like these have been unleashed.

Here's the truth: Business jargon often does the exact opposite of what you want it to do. When you walk into a room sounding like you know it all, you can come across as a know-it-all. And who would you want to do business with? A know-it-all or the person is who is real and tells it like it is?

Why Business Jargon Pushes People Away

When you use jargon, you run the risk of making people feel dumb because they don't get what you're saying.

You can skip the jargon and still be a professional. Professionalism comes from confidence, experience and self-awareness—everything that business jargon can make it seem you're lacking.

No one likes having someone talk over their heads. When that happens, we usually take a step back. We stop listening and get defensive—which is the last thing you want people to do when you're trying to establish a connection.

Remember: You're doing business with people. The people in the room with you have problems that need solving. Business jargon just puts one more barrier between where they are and what they need from you: solutions. Let your solutions shine instead of burying them under a pile of buzzwords.

Clearing Up Your Communication

We've established that using business jargon can get in the way of communication. One trap folks often fall into is saying words that are meant to be read.

When you see words on a screen in a Facebook ad or even in an online article like this one, they're written to be read internally, not read out loud. The way we speak is vastly different from the way folks tend to write in the business world.

One way to bust yourself out of this common business jargon trap is to read out loud anything you plan to say out loud. From meeting prep to pitch presentations and brand statements, practice in front of someone you trust. People have finely tuned “buzzword" meters and can provide feedback that can help you stay out of the "Say what now?" zone and into the "Now you've got my attention" zone.

Another way to stop using jargon is to simply say exactly what you mean. Instead of saying, for example, "move the needle," consider telling the client the actual result or effect you hope to achieve. Like this:

With jargon: "To get you the engagement you want on your company blog, we need to move the needle. Shake things up."

Without jargon: "To increase engagement on your company blog, we need to give your readers a reason to stay on the page. Engage them on a deeper level. That's why we're proposing <your fantastic solution.>"

Another communication trap that's easy to fall into is using extra words. Extra words are easy to slip in when you're trying to sound all professional and smart, but you may want to avoid using 10 words where two will do just fine. You can catch this business jargon trap while proofreading. Better yet, ask a colleague to read what you plan to say or write and identify places where you could say the same—or more—with fewer words.

Go Forth, Jargon-Free

You can skip the jargon and still be a professional. Professionalism comes from confidence, experience and self-awareness—everything that business jargon can make it seem you're lacking. And that professionalism is what can help make your solutions come through loud and clear and connect you with your ideal customer faster than ever.

Talk to your employees and clients like they're humans. Know the difference between words meant for writing and words meant to be spoken, and don't be afraid to have someone both read and listen to your words and give you a rating on the “buzzword" meter.

Want to dig deeper into your use of jargon? Here are some additional resources so you can straighten out your communications—because being clear and concise will always win over jargon.

Learn more ways to get business done.

Photo: Getty Images
Columnist, American Express OPEN