Jobspeak: Keep jargon off your plate


Don't use jargon. I know you've heard this rule before, but maybe no one has ever told you the real reason for the rule. Your choice of jargon reveals your weakness.

A lot of jargon is specific to an industry, and if you use it outside the industry no one will understand you. This jargon will undermine you because you're likely to alienate people by using words or phrases they don't know.

There's also jargon that goes across most industries– the phrases you hear whether you're an accountant in consumer products or a programmer in healthcare. Most people understand this jargon, but using it makes you look bad because most cross-industry jargon is a euphemism for being desperate or incompetent or calling someone else desperate or incompetent. Here are some examples:

"Let's think outside the box" really means, "Can you creatively anemic people please come up with something?" People who really do think outside the box do it whether they are told to or not. That's how they think. If you feel like you need to tell someone to think outside the box, then it's probably hopeless. The person who says, "Let's think outside the box" is usually desperate for a new idea and surrounded by people who are not known for generating ideas. So the phrase is actually an announcement that says, "I'm in trouble."

"I need someone who can hit the ground running" really means, "I'm screwed." No one can hit the ground running. You need to at least assess what race you're in and who else is running. Everyone has a race strategy when they're in the blocks. You need a little time to get one. In the case of a new hire, this means taking some time to assess company politics. If your employer needs you to hit the ground running, you've already missed your window to achieve success.

Do you have the bandwidth? Note that bandwidth is not time. It's something else. If you ask someone "Do you have time?" you mean, "Am I a priority?" If you ask someone "Do you have bandwidth?" you mean, "You seem like your brain is fried. Can you pull yourself together to do this for me?"

Let's hit a home run: "I'm desperate to look good. Even though the odds of a home run are slim, I'm banking on one because it's the only thing that'll save me." Something for all your sports fans to remember: If you have a bunch of solid hitters, you don't need a bunch of home runs.

"You and I are not on the same page" means "Get on my page. Your page is misguided." No one ever says, "We're not on the same page, so let me work really hard to understand your point of view. "If you want to understand someone else, you say, "Can you tell me more about how you're thinking?"

I'm calling to touch base. "I want something from you, but I can't say it up front." Or "I'm worried that you're lost, and I'm sniffing around for signs to confirm my hunch." Or "I'm calling because you micromanage me."

Let's run the numbers and see how they look: "I know they look bad on first blush. But the true use of Excel is to keep changing the formulas until you find a format that makes the numbers look good."

My plate is full: "Help! I'm drowning," or "I would kill myself before I'd work on your project."

Let's close the loop. "Let me make sure I'm not going to get into trouble for this one."

Let's touch base next week: "I don't want to talk to you now," or "You're on a short leash and you need to report back to me."

Keep this on your radar. "This will come back to bite you... or me."