You’re a business leader, which means you’re probably smart, accomplished, experienced and fairly well educated. How do you feel when you read the following sentence?
“We’ve taken a solution-focused approach, dominated by our corporate values, to create a paradigm shift in the industry.”
Bored and confused, right? This sentence could apply to a product launch, reorganization of the company, a hiring spree or a round of layoffs. And therein lies the problem with business jargon. It’s often meaningless, uninspiring and unmemorable.
The problem with business jargon
The first problem with corporate speak is that it prevents clarity and creates misalignment between what the company meant to communicate and what employees perceive.
Second, it makes the speaker sound like they are evading facts. Unsurprisingly, people tend to believe more information when it is explained clearly and simply.
The same goes for employee communications. Straightforward answers build credibility and help employees better understand what is going on in the company. Even if the situation is convoluted, find a way to explain as clearly as possible what is happening and why.
An example of a difficult topic that leaders must communicate would be when a key employee leaves the company. In traditional business jargon, your email might sound like this:
“Over the past several months, there has been a lot of work in rethinking our organization and what capabilities are needed to help lead us through a cultural transformation. To that end, John will transition out of the company over the next few weeks.”
In plain language, the same message might say:
“As you are aware, we reorganized several departments to improve efficiency. Part of that reorganization means that the position of Vice President of Paradigms position is being phased out. John will help transition his team over the next four weeks.”
Both messages convey that John is leaving but the second one explains why. “Why” remains a vital element of any clear communication.
Why it’s still popular
Why do so many companies use corporate speak when the downside is obvious?
Often, business jargon creeps in when company leaders feel uncomfortable admitting they don’t have immediate answers to an issue. While it may be tempting to obfuscate, you’re better off explaining that tough challenges may take a long time to fully understand and even longer to fix.
Sometimes managers want to look smarter or hide insecurity by using bigger words. However, studies prove that more complicated sentences and obscure words actually hinder communication rather than enhance it.
Other times, force of habit leads many managers to fall back on the same familiar, but ambiguous, words rather than explore new ways of explaining things.
In some instances, there’s a false perception that business jargon protects the company from legal issues, but what really hurts the company is detached, emotionally flat and vague messaging.
Common mistakes and tips
As a company leader, it’s your job to motivate and inspire. Being impersonal, too wordy or delivering no clear substance are the most common mistakes managers fall into in their official communications.
Especially when delivering bad news, it is best to explain the rationale behind the decision. Even if the situation is convoluted, try to find a way to explain it as clearly as possible. Be thoughtful, direct and avoid euphemisms, sugar coating and jargon. Straightforward answers build credibility and help employees better understand what is going on in the company.
It builds trust with employees when you share corporate realities in understandable language. No reasonable employee expects a leader to have all the answers. However, all employees do want to be treated as respected partners who are capable of understanding complexities.
To learn whether your communications are clear, ask a new employee or another neutral audience to review your past communications and give you feedback about whether they can understand what you meant to say.
Some common tips for better communications include:
Personal vs. impersonal – Use “I,” “we” and “you” to give your communications a softer, more emotional connection.
Meaningless words and phrases – Leverage, empower, synergy, paradigm were once perfectly good words that were rarely used. Then they became popular in business language. Avoid using words that have been over-used or are so vague that your meaning is obscured.
Simple and direct – It is best to explain in clear terms what is happening and why, how it will impact different categories of employees, and where to get additional information
Jargon and buzzwords – Much like teenage slang, business buzzwords tend to hold meaning only for a small audience, automatically creating those who “get it” and those who “don’t.” Avoid jargon to make sure everyone understands.
Acronyms – All businesses use acronyms. Whether talking at a meeting or sending an email, make sure overuse of acronyms doesn’t make it hard for new hires or people from other departments to understand what you mean.
So, the next time you want to tell employees the company needs their buy-in to leverage a paradigm shift that helps the company maximize its core competencies – stop. Take a deep breath and think about what you really need to say – then say it.
Want more ways to hone your leadership communication skills? Download our free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management, Issue 2.