Is using jargon really all that bad?

Jargon is everywhere.  We all use it.

In and of itself, jargon isn’t necessarily bad.  But it can go horribly wrong.  We’ve all seen websites that read as if they were assembled from a grab-bag of catch-phrases, clichés, and other jargon-y expressions.  And I’d be willing to bet that we’ve all experienced moments where we felt safer hiding behind jargon instead of putting our real work and real selves out into public view.

And of course we’ve all read the various blog posts, articles, and even books that talk about how jargon muddies communication, diminishes credibility, and can make us sound like idiots.

But is jargon really all that bad?

Yes … and no

There’s no hard and fast rule.  (Sorry.)

Your choice of whether to use jargon or not will differ according to the situation.  The answer depends on three things.

1.  What are you talking about?

When your field of expertise is a specialty that has its own language, knowing the language (the jargon) is necessary for credibility within the field.

2.  Who are you talking to?

If you’re talking to people within your field of expertise, they’ll expect you to speak the common language – the industry jargon.

However, if you’re talking to an audience that isn’t in your field of expertise, using industry jargon may confuse them at best, and alienate them at worst.

3.  How do you feel about what you’re saying?

That may seem like a weird question, but it’s actually the most important question of the three.

Jargon tends to slip into our writing and our speech when we’re uncertain, feeling vulnerable, or in some way reluctant to really put our message out there.

How this shows up

I recently worked with an executive coach.

The initial written description of her work that she sent to me could have applied to any coach who’d been accredited by the coaching school she’d attended.  She had drowned her uniqueness in a morass of coachy buzzwords and co-creative jargon.

Granted, she hasn’t had a lot of experience yet as a coach.  But she has decades of professional and personal experience that gives her plenty of highly-relevant credibility.  And she’s already made a significant difference in the lives of several impressively high-powered clients.

Her audience is high-end non-profit executives.  Coach-speak would be pure industry jargon to her potential clients.  Worse, it would obscure the true uniqueness of who she is and what she offers – the factors that make her work different from any other coach, even those serving a similar market.  Her audience might have some understanding of coaching jargon, but a conversation phrased in that language would not be meaningful to them nor give them any idea of the power of her work.

I was honored and very glad to be able to help her draw out the unique value she offers and describe her work clearly, without relying on coaching-industry buzzwords.

I don’t blame her one bit for what she initially sent to me.  It’s what she was taught in her coaching classes, and so of course it’s how she talked about her work.  Recognizing and stepping into real ownership of your value is powerful – and can be scary.  There’s nothing to hide behind, and it can feel like you’re out there flapping in the breeze for all to see.

Which, of course, is exactly the point.  You want your value to be front and center, no matter how vulnerable that may feel, because it’s your uniqueness that draws your best clients to work with you.

Using jargon effectively means using it consciously and always being sure that you’re communicating as simply and clearly as possible given the topic and audience involved.

Most importantly, be sure that you’re not hiding your unique brilliance behind jargon – even if it’s language your audience will understand.