dont' speak

About five years ago I was invited by one of my clients, who was the CEO of a small but highly successful investment management firm, to sit in on his weekly leadership team meeting. He asked me to take notes and then comment on each presenter’s effectiveness.

The meeting started with a young executive going on and on about how great the company’s Boston office was doing. He then paused for effect and summarized: “So you see, it’s essential that we leverage Boston on a go forward basis if we are going to grow AUM.”

The audience looked at each other, at him, and then each other. After about 10 seconds of silence someone started clapping awkwardly.

I knew I was supposed to sit quietly, but if no one else would ask, then I would. I put my hand up and asked, “What exactly does it mean to leverage your Boston office?”

The speaker fixed me with a puzzled stare, then silently appealed to his CEO for help. “Well,” he said, “I don’t exactly know, but there must be something good we can do with them.”

The rise of jargon

A speaker using big words. An audience who thinks they should know what those words mean. A lost connection and a missed opportunity. This situation repeats itself day in and day out. I’ve watched for over a decade jargon in the workplace undermine leaders and fail to motivate audiences.

Read: Your Q+A Cheat Sheet. Don’t Let employees or investors put you on the spot

The best way to inspire audiences to act is to convey clear, compelling ideas. Language is the vehicle through which your ideas travel from your mind to your audience. Make your language powerful and you end up with something memorable like, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Use jargon and risk your ideas being ignored or misinterpreted.

The five worst offenders—and what to do about them

Whether you’re an entrepreneur bootstapping a startup or the CEO of a mature, thriving business, you should be on the lookout for jargon in your organization—and be willing to call it when you hear it.

Read: The Question Most Startups Can’t Answer

Here are the worst of the bunch and what you should tell your staff if you happen to hear any of these words from them.

1. Disrupt

This is a word that has appeared out of nowhere to, well, disrupt my inner calm. You may have seen it used in sentences like, “We will disrupt the ___________ industry to achieve world domination”, or, “He’s the leading disruptor in that segment.”

What’s wrong with it: Disrupt (and other words that fall into this category like transform, synergize and leverage) sounds impressive yet actually says nothing. It can be a euphemism for “change,” “shake up,” “take over,” or so many other words that it actually specifies nothing.

If you hear it from your people: Tell them if they want to use a word like disrupt, they must define clearly what they mean by it: “When I say disrupt, I mean get the client to buy this product from an entirely new source, allowing us to become the market leader.”

Loading comments, please wait.