Effective Communicator Tip #1: Avoid B.S.

Avoid BS Heading Image - SmallCorporate best practice entails leveraging the synergy of elastic communication in human capital to maximize ROI efficiency gains at the corporation in terms of the holistic enterprise.

If the previous sentence took five minutes to slog through and made you want to smash your computer screen with a hammer, it’s because it was chock-full of B.S. – or what many refer to as “business speak.”  And business speak is toxic to effective communication.

Departments often use unique processes and systems, and those unique processes naturally tend to develop their own slang terms – be it words, metaphors, or acronyms – that people repeat over and over. And eventually, people start using those words casually in everyday conversation. But while the terms make perfect sense to a select few, many people don’t understand them!

I get a lot of pushback on this Communication Tip. After I finish a seminar, people sometimes tell me, “Well, I just don’t agree. People ought to know the terms of the trade!” And I know what they mean – some terms are just easier to use, and need to be learned. But it’s a slippery slope: it’s easy to go from helpful terms that simplify concepts into jargon-laden sentences that contain more confusion than content. As George Orwell said in Politics and the English Language, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” Orwell goes on to offer six rules for clear language.

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 In 1996, a physics professor named Alan Sokal was frustrated with the intellectual laziness of some popular academic journals. In order to test and expose this laziness, Sokal perpetrated what is now known as the “Sokal Hoax.” He wrote a paper full of groundless nonsense, stringing together insider lingo that sounded smart. He then submitted it to a popular academic journal.  His paper, entitled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” was accepted and published.

Because Sokal used a lot of impressive-sounding B.S. in his article, people accepted it. The same thing can happen in the business world – people can get away with being intellectually lazy by using phrases and acronyms in impressive-sounding combinations. Even though the Receiver may not understand the business speak, they’ll nod their head and hide their confusion because they feel like they’re supposed to understand, especially if that Sender is a superior (see my previous article to learn more about Senders & Receivers).

Assuming that your Receivers understand specific business terms can quickly make them feel isolated and make your message unclear. Instead of using business speak, use smaller, more common words when communicating a message, especially to someone outside of your department. In short, avoid the B.S.

In other words, as my mom likes to say: “Mean what you say. Say what you mean.”
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