Hari Patience-Davies provides another reason why we should jettison the jargon. It can make you look as insecure and try hard as a first year university student with a thesaurus…
I remember my first assignment at university. I had to write an essay on Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, a satirical epic poem. As this was my first proper grown up essay (A level and GCSE essays being childish) I pulled out every single multi-syllabic word I knew. Things weren’t just contrasted, they were juxtaposed. The word conflaburation may have made it in there and that’s not an actual word.
I was, in short, trying to sound as smart as I could. But it didn’t work, and I got a much lower grade than became my normal range later on.
Why, because I was hiding the fact I didn’t much have to say behind the language.
Which, as a recent study shows, using jargon to try to sound smart is actually more likely to indicate your own insecurity about how smart you actually are.
Adam Grant, the organisational psychologist, recently shared this tweet:
Jargon isn't a sign of expertise; it's a signal of insecurity.
9 studies: when people lack status, they resort to unnecessarily technical language in an attempt to look smart.
— Adam Grant (@AdamMGrant) September 29, 2020
And honestly I wasn’t surprised to hear this. It’s another example of academia proving something we probably all suspected already. Imagine you’re listening to someone who has filled their speech with unrecognisable technical and jargonistic words. Now be honest, how often do you get a niggling feeling that they don’t actually know what they’re talking about?
I find it happens a lot with technology like Cloud and Blockchain – if you understand the basics of how either works, you know enough to know that phrases like “just put in on the blockchain” don’t really make sense. Now I don’t claim to be an expert in either of these, but I know enough to recognise when someone is just using the words without understanding what they mean.
It’s also something I’ve seen when non-technical people are trying to explain problems that the technical team that reports to them have said. They just parrot the complaint, without asking what it actually means, and then when asked by a listener to explain just what it is that is wrong, they flounder, and often have to go back to their team for more information.
This doesn’t make them look good, it makes look somewhat inept – because even if it’s not your responsibility to understand the ins and outs of the entirety of the problem, you should know enough to be able to explain it in plain language and not just repeat an incomprehensible list of jargon.
So what can we do? Well, try to ditch as much jargon as you can from your everyday language. Or if some jargon is unavoidable, check before using certain words. Many people don’t like to admit they don’t know what a word means, it makes them feel less powerful, so including a simple explanation the first time you use a piece of jargon to make sure everyone understands what you mean, is both considerate and inclusive.
If you’re working on a project with a lot of abbreviations and jargon creating and maintaining and project dictionary somewhere everyone can access it is also helpful. It makes sure that everyone can be in on the in-group language, and that no one is using terms they don’t understand.
Image credit: Matthew Brodeur on Unsplash.