I was recently at an event where the discussion in my group quickly descended into the use of jargon. Into what I would describe as unnecessarily complex language — using big words for no apparent reason. It reminded me of my City days and how much I loathed such behaviour, particularly when I found myself doing it!
Four possible reasons
People tend to use big words to complicate things that could be said more simply for at least 4 reasons:
1) Trying to look smart.
2) Not really understand what they are talking about.
3) Trying to avoid key information (usually a very simple and straight forward fact or explanation).
4) Being unaware of the audience’s familiarity with the subject matter (I have more sympathy here).
How to respond?
When faced with such situations I often react with a simple, “I am not following, could you please say that again in lay person’s terms?” An alternative is to summarise what you have heard back to them in as simple language as possible. The idea is to get to the essence of what they are trying to say (or not say!). Grabbing a piece of paper and using simple diagrams can work very well too, particularly in meetings. Hypothetical scenarios are another way to bring to life more abstract concepts and ideas.
Of course, none of this is rocket science. Often what prevents us from calling out BS is our own insecurity around coming across as not knowing. If we approach these situations with a genuine curiosity about what is being said, the result is actually quite different. What tends to shine through is your interest, your desire to fully engage and understand.
Minimising big words
Some topics require the use of a lot of big words and technical language. However, my experiences have taught me that such situations are rare in business and in life generally. It’s not like we are preparing for the next moon landing!
Cutting through the BS and distilling the essence of something is not easy by any means and is certainly an art, but at least we have to try. The first step here, as with many other things, is being aware of this behaviour in both ourselves and others.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” – William of Ockham
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.