How Cutting out Jargon can Help you Achieve Clear Communication

How Cutting out Jargon can Help you Achieve Clear Communication

Cut Jargon to Communicate Clearly: PhoneCurious about oral and written transmission optimization with ecommerce applicants? You’re in luck. Today, we’re examining how to clearly delineate the action points of a particular venture, specifically when dealing between the demos.

If you read the above sentence more than once and the word ‘huh?’ came to mind, then you got my point.

Jargon has been creeping its way into workplace communication for decades. Whether it’s words like ‘synergy’, startup-specific slang like ‘ramen profitable’, or misused technical terms, jargon puffs up a speaker at the expense of their audience.

If you’re already shrugging your shoulders and thinking, “This is just how people in my industry/office/business speak,” consider that vague language generates less trust. A 2011 study found that speakers who used buzzwords instead of concrete language were more often perceived as lying.

And whose trust do you need to get work, get paid, and make a living? Say it with me: clients.

How you speak and write to a client can make them feel trust and comfort — or confusion and annoyance.

If you sound anything like the above CollegeHumor spoof on startup jargon, than you definitely need to work on your communication (luckily, you’re in the right place).

Today, we’ll dig into why jargon is bad for your business and offer you five ways to clean up your client communication.

1. Identify your audience

One exception to the jargon-is-annoying rule is technical jargon. In certain cases, technical terms provide a concise description to those who understand them.

Which brings us to step number one when dealing with a new client: identify your audience.

This means actually thinking about who your client is, what they do for a living, and how they communicate on a regular basis.

Your job as a professional is to identify and meet their needs, right? You need to include communication as part of that deal; it’s unprofessional to do otherwise.

Think about it — you understand and know what these buzzwords mean, but rather than explain their meaning, you take a shortcut (one that only benefits you).

In order to learn more about your client, do some research:

  • Read through their website, social media accounts, and blog. It will give you an idea of how they communicate, the tone they use in a business scenario (whether serious or quirky), and what they value as a company.
  • Figure out who you are communicating with from their team. Is it someone who is able to make decisions and has a strong grasp of the business, or is it an employee who is managing the relationship and reporting back to their boss?
  • Consider taking a few minutes for small talk (I know, at cocktail parties this makes me want to spill wine on myself in order to have an excuse to escape, but in this scenario, consider it part of your job). Taking a few minutes to chat before diving into work can help put your client at ease, and gives you time to get a sense of how they communicate.

All this reconnaissance isn’t just to have, it’s to use.

If in the first 15 minutes of meeting with a client, they mention they’re the worst when it comes to computers, spewing a bunch of technical jargon at them will not help. If your client’s Twitter feed reflects a serious and no-nonsense approach to product promotion, using fluffy buzzwords with no concrete meaning will not impress them.

In the same way that mirroring someone’s body language helps put them at ease (and puts us in a better position to empathize), you should consider mirroring the way your client communicates.

This doesn’t mean completely changing your style of speaking, but rather working to make your clients feel comfortable in a world they might be unfamiliar with.

2. Clean up your vocabulary

Want to communicate clearly? Identify what words you use on a regular basis that are exclusionary in nature, and start cutting them from your vocabulary (or at least your client vocabulary).

To cut it out:

  • Avoid buzzwords (my favorite: synergy)
  • Avoid acronyms (what does WIP mean?)
  • Avoid pretentious-sounding words (why say ‘utilize’ when you can say ‘use’?)
  • Think about how you would speak to a friend or a parent (someone not in your line of business)

I’m not advocating that you speak to your clients like toddlers, but I am saying that you should stop making assumptions about what they know and understand.

3. Break down ideas

What happens, though, when you’re explaining a concept that truly is complex? As you well know, how we code, design, iterate, and develop are not simple ideas or processes to explain.

That’s why you need to find strategic ways to break down concepts and create bite-sized ideas.

And this isn’t just for your client’s benefit; it will also help you avoid conflict down the road. For example, when writing scope of work statements, proposals, or contracts, it’s absolutely vital that your client not only reads the document, but understands it.

People often fall prey to skimming documents because they’re challenging to read (when they don’t have to be), only to find out months down the road that what they’re getting is not what they expected.

You need to see communication as another tool in your expectation-management box, which is an important aspect of any web design or development project.

In his article ‘Looking for Trouble,’ UX Director Orr Shtuhl explains that you are giving clients more than just a website. You should be gifting them a better understanding of how websites are designed, how they work, and what makes them succeed. This is your job because you are equipped with the expertise to create this welcoming environment.

With this in mind, when speaking to a potential client about complex ideas:

  • Focus on the big picture. Does your client need to understand every detail of the concept to get the big picture?
  • Pull out and summarize the most vital and necessary information in advance for your client.
  • Organize vital points and be sure to explain them in the most efficient/relevant order.
  • Refrain from vague references. Avoid words like ‘he’ and ‘she’ and ‘that’ and ‘there.’ Instead of “She will help you with that but will work from here,” say “Jane will help you write product descriptions but will work from your office.”

4. Write it right

When writing (whether for emails, design briefs, or proposals), there are a few key writing tips to keep in mind:

  • Consider writing an outline for particularly long or complex documents. This will organize your thoughts right from the start, and help you provide clarification where needed.
  • Write in short sentences. This will force you to use concise language.
  • Do you need all those extra words? Every single word in your document should have a purpose. Get rid of words like ‘just’ or ‘very,’ and make sure all those adjectives you’re using are needed (hint: don’t use two adjectives when you only need one).
  • Use the active voice. Nothing will make you write an overly complicated sentence quicker than using the passive voice.
  • EDIT, EDIT, EDIT. Should I say it one more time? There is no way around rereading your work — but on the bright side, it is a surefire way of improving it.
  • Get feedback. Ask a coworker, or if you want to take it further, ask someone that’s not in your industry to review your work. They can help by identifying jargon you might have overlooked, or concepts that need more work.

If the website Macworld thinks it’s important to break down hundreds of complex terms in their Apple user’s dictionary of tech jargon, then my technologically-minded friend, you have no excuse.

Obviously, there are tools that can help you speed up your journey to communication genius. And what kind of blog would we be if we didn’t point you in their direction?

  • Hemingway Editor tightens up your writing by highlighting common issues, like wordy sentences, complicated words, and the passive voice.
  • Writeful is an app that provides feedback on your writing by checking your text against a database of correct language.
  • Rough Draft makes the writer focus on the message rather than the words, by automatically editing your first draft as you write, and limiting your ability to do the same.

5. Practice, practice, practice

Ask any seasoned professional who values clear, jargon-free communication, and they will tell you it doesn’t come easy.

Even writers and journalists, whose job it is to communicate clearly to wide masses of people, struggle at first to find the right strategies to navigate their trade.

Solid writing and communicating is like a muscle — it needs to be strengthened, which is why you need to practice.

Consider writing technical articles for a blog (we’re always taking pitches, guys). You can be sure an editor unfamiliar with your work will put you through your paces, and it’s a great way to engage with your industry in a positive way.

Take an even bigger step and sign up to speak or teach at a local high school or college, or offer a workshop to newbies in your field. These are great ways to get your business’s name out into your local community, and it will also force you to build easy to digest speaking and teaching plans.

Furthermore, your attendees will have questions, and their struggles will help identify what you need to work and focus on.

As Albert Einstein once said…

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Start prioritizing how you communicate to potential clients, and make it part of how you conduct business.

Putting your clients’ needs first reflects professionalism, and will help you strengthen relationships, not to mention your reputation. Don’t take jargon lightly — learn when to cut it out.

Do you think jargon has a place in your industry? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

About the Author

Anastasia is the Editor of Shopify's Web Design and Development Blog. She’s a former journalist and freelancer, and loves chocolate stout beer.

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