Have you ever stumbled across a job title and realized that it described a role you were doing every day and just didn’t have a name for? Or maybe you came across an entire field of study or philosophy and recognized concepts that you intuitively knew and had been using in your work? Once you had a name for it, it suddenly became a “legitimate” skill – you could effectively communicate with other people doing the same job or implementing the same philosophy because you now had an encyclopedia of new shared terminology and jargon. You could recognize each other and gauge your respective expertise by the proper use of your language shorthand. But is there a downside to using your insider vocabulary everywhere?
The clue lies in the actual dictionary definition for the word “jargon” – special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand. There are two audiences in particular where using specialized terminology may be working against you – your coworkers and your customers. For years, I specialized in Lean Manufacturing and I never understood why, in a methodology devoted to efficiency and removing waste, we would use terms that we then had to translate to the people we were trying to teach. When we opened a new facility that was completely built around the principles of Lean, I told people who came for tours that anyone on the production floor could answer any question they had about their operation and why they did things the way they did, but they had no idea what the industry terminology was for any of the concepts they worked from. They just knew that they made sense and worked.
Trying to get the team to memorize a long list of terms and the history of a school of thought would have been a waste of time and not at all useful to them. I wanted them to understand the WHY of what they were doing, so they could use that to continue to innovate on their own and continuously improve the operation. If you want other departments in your organization to adopt something that will improve the overall operation, do you sell them on a list of complicated jargon or do you tell them in simple straightforward terms how making a change will help them? I recently read a post by someone who was billed as an expert in an emerging field that is very interesting to me. Unfortunately, it was filled with so much field-specific terminology, which was then rolled up in a burrito of general management buzzwords, that I read it three times just trying to figure out if there was actual content hiding in there and what it might mean before I finally gave up. I have no doubt he was an expert…but his expertise wasn’t accessible to non-experts like me, so I wasn’t able to engage.
Often, our customers aren’t experts, either. In many cases, that’s why they hired us! They shouldn’t need to know our terminology to understand whether we can help them. If someone needs a particular billing software solution to run their business, it doesn’t mean they are or want to be a billing software expert. They want to be able to tell the billing software company what problem they are trying to solve and they want the software company to be able to tell them how they can solve it in simple terms. I struggle with this in my own marketing….do I use the terminology that conveys my credibility to people who are already experts? Or do I make what I do and how I can help as crystal clear as possible to the people who are most likely to benefit from it? And isn’t it interesting how it is harder than it seems like it should be to boil our value and methods down to the simplest terms? I know I already have a lot of editing to do. How about you? What has resonated with your customers?