Fooled by jargon?

How can you tell when you are being jargonized? Jargon is technical language used within specific disciplines that becomes overused and then virtually meaningless. This is particularly true in the pragmatic business world of managers and executives looking for that next technical fix that is the game changer used by change agents seeking impact. Jargon can disguise a lack of knowledge and, more importantly, often defends against real change. Because the term or phrase is used without a thoughtful understanding of the concept that lies behind it, it allows for the same pattern of behavior or character to persist. The language becomes a shell game, where the prize is hidden from all.

We see this also in advertising. Like most of you, I enjoy observing how advertisers play with language, culture and felt need, creating a web of associations in a not so subtle attempt to create dissatisfaction and shape our consumption. As we all seek greater meaning and purpose in our lives, advertisers are capitalizing on this trend in the ads for banks, investment firms, luxury brands, even toothpaste. We, the potential customers, are presented as successful and significant and therefore ought to treat ourselves well. It is odd, though, to hear terms such as “successful,” “significant,” “meaning” and “purpose” and “substance” applied to someone who buys a luxury car or uses the services of an investment firm. Do you really think that these industries have the expertise to offer advice about what goes into building a good life—no matter how much they try to convince us otherwise?

Find Meaning beyond the Jargon

Jargon seems cool, can match a trend or fad, but ultimately isn’t satisfying. Next time you hear it, try what I do:

  1. Ask the person what they mean.
  2. Make them explain it in real terms that are understandable.
  3. Probe and quiz to see if there is depth to what they are saying.

I have found that in matters of business, politics and religion, we are well served to push beyond the BS. And who knows, your conversation partner might surprise you and actually know what they are talking about.

What jargon have you heard recently? How did you respond?

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