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I recently read an article in one of my favorite magazines, Entrepreneur, that talked about one of my pet peeves ... the use of jargon. Somewhere along the way we have lost the art of communicating to individuals as just that. Individuals. Jargons may help clarify and even communicate within a company or culture, but outside of that it lands as gibberish.
Terms like actionable, commoditize, deliverables, ideate and top-line metrics were listed among their objectionable list. Terms I often hear in my consulting work. Terms that I often wonder if the user actually knows what they mean. And I've often found their customers, vendors and even clients often don't. But in a culture where no one wants to look bad, they just nod along.
Collateral is one such word. I grew up in he financial services world. Collateral meant what someone pledged as security against a loan. You know, securitization! Oh, yeah ... another word that was twisted to mean a grouping of mortgage loans to be sold to the secondary market. But in the marketing world, collateral refers to the pamphlets, flyers, cards and such that used to be called advertising pieces or promotional materials. Same word, two very different uses and definitions.
I broke myself of using jargon years ago when this happened to me: As I said, I grew up in the financial services industry. The term solicit, or SOL for short, was used to signify a green light to sell someone a product or service that had proven themselves eligible. So one day (probably more than a day, but I don't recall the time frame) I went through all 800+ accounts (ledger cards) and for everyone that was eligible for more money I wrote a big fluorescent green "SOL" across their card. At the bottom, in small red letters I identified how much money they were eligible for on top of the loan amount they already owed. The staff was trained with the expectation that every time they talked to the customer, they solicited them for the amount at the bottpom when they saw a green "SOL" and documented their conversation on the back of the card (pre-computers).
Job done. Worked great. So proud. Until one day one of my best customers came in and, during the friendly chatter that occurred when customers came in to bay their bill, he suddenly became incensed. After raising his voice to the clerk he asked for me and when I came over to find out what was wrong and to see how I could help, he pointed to the big green "SOL" and exclaimed "I thought I was a good customer! Why do you have a big note on my account that says "Sh&% Outta Luck!?"
My use of jargon ended then and there and from then on I've made an effort to talk to my customers, clients, employees, colleagues, vendors and prospects as individuals.
My challenge is that you look within your organization to see where you can clean up your communication and just tell your story ... one individual to another.