Don’t Talk in Code: Making Your Business Message Clear|Jill Lublin

Jill in Australia Trade Fair Seminar

Language can be unclear so define all key terms to make sure that everyone is speaking the same language. For example, I tell people that I am going to help them create a message that the media will say yes to. Many people may not understand what I mean by the word “message,” so I define it for them. Their message is a one or two sentence introduction that explains the benefits they will provide.

Jeannie, a technical writer, specializes in simplifying highly complex information. She can make the most difficult, dense, and confusing material easily understandable. Jeannie was hired by Jackson, who was fascinated by nuance, subtlety, and hidden meanings. Jackson always found everything to have a deeper, a more complex, or ambiguous meaning. When Jeannie and Jackson worked together, it was a disaster. They engaged in a mental tug of war with each of them pulling in opposite directions. Although they liked each other and compromised to accommodate the other, they were never able to reach a happy medium and could not successfully work together.

Frequently, we turn to people who are our opposites to see the other side; to take us places we could never reach by ourselves. While it’s often beneficial to get their insights, many people simply can’t hear other approaches or they truly don’t want to go that way.

Every industry, profession and many businesses have their own language. They use shorthand, abbreviations, and terms of art. As a result, they often speak in code. Since everyone in their group understands them, they assume that everyone else does too.

I worked on a project with a large shipping company and when I met with their personnel, I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I continually asked them for clarification, but they were so focused on technical information, that they never realized that they were not being clear. They were at work and everyone at work spoke and understood their jargon. The fact that I was an outsider never dawned on them. The consulting work I performed helped them create sound bites that everyone could understand.

Be cautious. Don’t talk in code and be sure that the other person understands you. Examine your words; make sure they are clear. I go back to the “five-year old” rule and ask whether I can be understood by a kindergartener.

In communicating, the most important objective is to make yourself understood. Smart and accomplished individuals are especially prone to using jargon and big, uncommon words. They know what they’re talking about and assume that others also do. However, jargon confuses most people and turns them off. Unfortunately, some people use such lingo to impress, but it usually has the opposite effect by boring or confusing.

Break your use of code by speaking with people outside your field, people who will tell you the truth. Ask them directly if they understood you, if you were completely clear, and how you could have said it better. Identify your mistakes and don’t repeat them. Getting external feedback forces you to engage with people outside of your field and to see if you can clearly and convincingly get your message across.