Lost in Language

By Randy Glasbergen

By Randy Glasbergen

We are lost in language
In business, we talk like idiots

Why is it harmful?
And why should you care?

We use words to identify, define and describe.
In business we often use abstract terms and jargon.
When you take a close look and listen carefully:
we talk like idiots.
Can be funny. But harmful. Too.

Do you know it’s one of the main causes of miscommunication, frustration and engagement issues? Running around in circles, energy is gone, no progress.

Why are we talking like idiots?
Why is it harmful?
And why should you care?

Why we use jargon and abstract terms

There are several reasons why we use jargon.
It’s related to the way we have organized our society.
We are ‘masters in pieces’.
We have divided our society into closed communities,
where focus and tasks are neatly divided.
Every group has their own specialization with its own education, literature and language.
Many of us work in such a defined area, whether it’s an organization, department or profession.
To reduce ambiguity in language, we figured out that it is easier to use jargon:
clear definitions, standardized rational language within groups.

What about abstract language?
There are lots of reasons for people to use this. For example:

  • It’s used by people to hide that they do not really know what they are talking about.
  • It is also used to stay into the comfort zone; it’s safer use indirect and vague language, so you can hide. (This is happening quite often; especially with delicate things like transformation and change. They want it to be unclear (”I could explain, but I will not even try.”)
  • Abstract terms are also used when the message is actually quite meaningless; lots of words are needed to conceal that.
  • Thereby, the use of difficult and abstract words also can be used for stature; speakers who want to sound smart and show that they’re busy with complex and important stuff (watch John Cleese;-)
  • Another reason is: lack of words. Sometimes we simply don’t have the words to express ourselves, because our language is limited. When we have no words and are not able to describe, some areas will be unspoken or underexposed. We simply talk the least about things we do not understand.

Why language matters

So, those are some reasons why we talk like idiots.
Let’s dive a little deeper in the underlying errors.
Why should you care?

Language can make it difficult to understand each other, when you come from different worlds, with different words and jargon.
It is difficult to understand each other if you don’t speak each other’s language.
We just don’t get it (and we are afraid to ask…we don’t want to feel stupid).
So, the way we use language could lead to frustration and miscommunication (what the @#$ is he/she talking about?).

Incomprehension and hassle may arise in collaboration; also because we all have different perspectives and interests. What we say doesn’t have to be what others hear. As George Bernad Shaw said:

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that is has taken place.”

People can interpret words in different ways. The thing is: our interpretation depends on our perception. In that respect, words are not simple representations of facts; they will always be interpreted from a certain perspective. It’s about understanding.

The meaning is not in the language itself; it’s in the way of life of the person concerned.
How words are interpreted is determined by perception.

Thereby, using abstract terms can lead to empty messages. Trying to hypnotize people with woolly language will not work. It has no meaning. And in the worst case, you suck all the energy out of people (See Randy Glasbergen cartoon above…).

Let’s make some sense

So, language is an extremely valuable tool, but it all depends on the way we use it.
And it is not as perfect and complete as we might believe.

It has a big influence on collaboration, management and teamwork. If we want to have meaningful conversations, smooth collaboration and happy teamwork, we have to stop talk like idiots. We have to start acting a little different for common understanding. And the use of a language that is meaningful, exciting, inspiring and invites people to move and act.

We are soaked in abstract terms and jargon.
Time to unsoak.
Start making sense.

For the curious

Plan B is all about acting different and we have a lot of tools that will ‘automatically’ help you to avoid this language pitfall.
Visualization is one of them (read our blog on the Power of Visualization).

We’ll write more about this subject! Stay tuned if you are interested.

BTW This blog is focused on language in relation to collaboration and understanding. We will write soon about the impact of language and communication in a way that affects people, convince them and boosts their enthusiasm.

For now, if want to know more about language stuff, view our Flipboard Magazine on Business Language (and how words matter):

View my Flipboard Magazine.

And/or check out these sources:

  • Book. Why business people speak like idiots (see: Amazon or Bol.com)
  • Video (10 min). RSA animation. Language as a Window into Human Nature
  • Book. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in Organizations. SAGE Publications.
  • Book/ Bono, E. de (2000). New Thinking for the New Millennium. England: Penguin Group.

Owh, and here are some personal examples:

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