My book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, is shipping from Amazon!
Buy it there now. Or buy the book in local book stores starting on May 25.
Here is tip #26 from the book:
Leverage Your Core Competencies by Off-Loading Jargon
Don’t use jargon. I know you’ve heard this rule before, but maybe no one has ever told you the real reason for the rule. You lose your authenticity when you reach for cliched phrases, and your choice of jargon reveals your weakness. Today business writing is “mired in cliche. It’s very stiff, striving to impress. It’s not honest: Here’s who I am,” says Tim Schellhardt, former bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal and now a public relations executive.
Phrases like “leverage your core competencies” spread through corporate life because the pressure to conform at work can be intense. Once you hear other people using the jargon, it’s easy to use it yourself. The result is an environment in which no voice stands out as authentic, according to the authors of, Why Business People Speak Like Idiots: A Bullfighter’s Guide.
There’s also jargon that goes across most industries. The phrases you hear whether you’re an accountant in consumer products or a programmer in health care. Most people understand this jargon, but using it makes you look bad because most cross-industry jargon is a euphemism for being desperate or incompetent or calling someone else desperate or incompetent. Here are some examples:
“Let’s think out of the box.” Really means, “Can you creatively anemic people please come up with something?” People who really do think out of the box do it whether they are told to or not. That’s how they think. If you feel like you need to tell someone to think out of the box, then it’s probably hopeless. The person who says, “Let’s think out of the box” is usually desperate for a new idea and surrounded by people who are not known for generating ideas. So the phrase is actually an announcement that says, “I’m in trouble.”
“I need someone who can hit the ground running.” Really means, “I am screwed.” Because no one can hit the ground running. You need to at least assess what race you’re in and who else is running. Everyone has a race strategy when they are in the blocks. You need a little time to get one. In the case of a new hire this means taking some time to assess company politics. If your employer needs you to hit the ground running then you’ve already missed your window to achieve success.
Let’s hit a home run: “I’m desperate to look good. Even though the odds of a home run are slim, I’m banking on one because it’s the only thing that’ll save me.” Something for all your sports fans to remember: If you have a bunch of solid hitters you don’t need a bunch of home runs.
You and I are not on the same page. “Get on my page. Your page is misguided.” No one ever says, “We’re not on the same page, so let me work really hard to understand your point of view. If you want to understand someone else, you say, “Can you tell me more about how you’re thinking.”
I’m calling to touch base. “I want something from you but I can’t say it up front.” Or “I am worried that you are lost and I’m sniffing around for signs to confirm my hunch.” Or “I’m calling because you micromanage me.”
My plate is full: “Help I’m drowning,” or “I would kill myself before I’d work on your project.”
Let’s close the loop. “Let me make sure I’m not going to get into trouble for this one.”
Let’s touch base next week: “I don’t want to talk to you now,” or “You are on a short leash and you need to report back to me.”
Keep this on your radar. “This will come back to bite you… or me.”
I sent this list to Peter Degen-Portnoy, inventor and president of Innovatium, and he pointed out one I missed: We’re not communicating well means “I don’t like you.”
I have never met Peter in person. But he sends me smart and soul-searching emails that reveal an authenticity that makes me feel like we’re friends. He never uses jargon, at least with me. So I like him.
Those of you who strive to be authentic every day of your life will not be derailed by jargon. To people who are connected to their work and their co-workers, jargon will not feel appropriate so you’ll rarely use it. Use jargon as a sign that you are disconnected to whatever is going on that is related to the jargon. If you treat the disconnectedness, and reestablish authenticity, the jargon will go away.