Simple steps to rooting out jargon

October 11, 2017

I’ve spent a lot of money on my teeth over the years. There’s definitely a couple of Chanel handbags’ worth in there, for no one to see.

Fillings, braces, extractions – I’ve had them all.

I had to go private once to get a root canal redone. I was excited. I naturally assumed ‘going private’ would mean a much more comfortable, serene experience. Like going business class with BA.

I expected the drilling to be muffled and to rinse with a gin and tonic. There would be no dribbling at my desk afterwards, waiting for the anaesthetic to wear off – this would happen as soon as I skipped out of the clinic, surely?

No. These things are all exactly the same as with the NHS.

But there are some luxurious aspects to note

Deep and squashy carpets instead of peeling lino. Classical music instead of Radio 2. Pristine copies of Harper’s Bazaar encased in precautionary plastic covers, rather than crumpled editions of Best with the crosswords already filled in.

And there were none of those sad little childrens’ toys you usually get in waiting rooms. I was even offered fresh coffee in bone china. (I’d just brushed my teeth – were they mad?).

Inevitably the thought occurred to me – was this where my money was going?


But there was one thing I didn’t mind paying for.

That not only improved the pain.

But that made me feel different about the whole experience.

They spoke to me

Throughout the procedure the dentist told me exactly what was going on. From the reason for wearing the goggles – to protect my eyes from stray liquids (not to make it harder to see what they were doing, as I’d always thought) – to the needle going in, to the tarpaulin being stretched, to the cleaning, filling, scraping, prodding and poking. (I do hope you’re not having lunch.)

All were explained to me at each stage.

This not only made me feel cared for and valued, but I felt involved, which was in marked contrast to the experience I’m used to, which – apart from the opening and closing remarks – isn’t to be spoken to at all. Instead I usually feel as if I’m not really part of the process, but one in a series of disembodied mouths to visit the chair that day.

Instead, the dialogue is between the dentist and technician

Usually with hilarious results. Whether they’re counting teeth or checking the gums, they’re usually flinging curious terms around – ‘calculus’, ‘incisal’, ‘distal’, ‘buccal’ – that aren’t ever explained.

This leaves you thinking the worst. Especially when you’re 15, already plagued by spots, and a nose that’s growing faster than your face. Having your mouth repeatedly described as ‘partially erupted’ just adds to the chaos.

Now that I have the internet I can learn (26 years later) that ‘partially erupted’ means there’s a tooth growing in, perhaps towards another, which explains all the extractions. But my 80s dentist didn’t mind leaving the jargon hanging, and I was too scared to ask.

Why do companies speak like this?

People want to sound authoritative and professional and see jargon and business speak as a shortcut. They use long words like ‘imminently’ when shorter ones like ‘soon’ will do. They add capital letters to terms such as Equity Release and leave aconyms unexplained.

They reach for over-used words that end up meaning little – I’m looking at you ‘innovative’, ‘passionate’ and ‘cutting-edge’.

Communicating in this way is a risky strategy. It alienates the client because it’s too much head and not enough heart.

That’s not to say all jargon is bad

“There’s good and bad jargon, like good and bad cholesterol,” says Doug Kessler, creative director of Velocity Partners. “Bad jargon is there to hide the truth and bamboozle people. I think it’s going away, because if people don’t understand you, they don’t blame themselves — they blame you! Good jargon signals that you’re part of a community, and saves time too.”

So if it feels as if your communications are wearing a tie, take it off:

  • Add a friendly explanation to describe Sipps, Oeics and DFMs.
  • Use shorter words such as ‘help’ rather than ‘assistance’, and more human phrases such as ‘each year’ not ‘per annum’.
  • Using active rather than passive language: “I noticed that” instead of “It was brought to my attention that”.
  • Introduce bullets points, headers, and use white space to help them digest tricky information more easily.

By incorporating this ‘closeness’ into your communications you get to keep the audience with you rather than letting them feel as if you’re a separate, formal entity they have an uncertain relationship with.

Having created this closeness in face-to-face meetings, it seems a shame to risk losing it by disrupting the client experience with unnecessary distance.

Leave that to the dentists!

October 11, 2017

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