This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
Jessica was the director of sales in a mid-sized technology company. Her team's performance had been lagging, owing to the poor performance of some of her sales reps. It was Friday afternoon, and she and her boss had just spent an hour talking about how to make changes to her team to improve sales. Then her boss said, "Well Jessica, we have to wrap up, and I'm glad we talked because we need to be aligned on our human capital strategy on a go-forward basis."
Jessica paused, unsure of what to say to this, or even what it meant. Her boss continued, "Look, I know your personal blue-sky plan sees you growing with an organization that's a segment leader, and while we hope we'll get there, we're not sure when. I appreciate that, and as we right-size our work force, we're prepared to release you to the market if that's how we can support you realizing your potential."
Jessica sat in stunned silence, trying to decipher what she'd just been told.
If you were Jessica, would you conclude that you had been:
1. Fired with cause
2. Told you would be soon given a severance package?
3. Asked whether you were planning to leave in the future?
The answer isn't obvious – because Jessica's boss used so much jargon that what he was trying to say was totally obscured.
Sadly, this kind of language is far too common in the workplace. Employees are left confused and uninspired, while the speakers fail to get their ideas across.
The language of leadership is jargon-free
That's why leaders reject jargon in favour of language that clearly conveys their ideas to their audience. When we work with executives and managers who wish to inspire action, we encourage them to use language that precisely explains their thinking to the hearts and minds of those whom they wish to move to action.
Here's how you can cut the jargon when you speak:
1. Commit to using clear language
Begin by making the conscious choice to avoid jargon and use the language of a leader – which is clear, concise and positive. It conveys your ideas with clarity and economy.
It isn't easy to do. Jargon is the "bread and butter" of corporate speak. It takes effort to develop the self-awareness that is needed to stop using jargon and replace it with clear and powerful alternatives.
It also takes courage to challenge the status quo that jargon represents. Using the jargon or technical language of your workplace brands you as an expert and an insider. Asking others to define their terminology takes courage – and abandoning your own can initially seem to weaken your expert status.
2. Replace jargon with substance
Once you've made the decision to go jargon-free, turn a harsh spotlight on your words to determine which ones can be replaced by more meaningful language.
Instead of saying, "We need to solution for our human capital maximization strategy," you can say, "We need to find a way to make our employees more productive."
Or, instead of saying, "Roadmap mobilization enables the strategy to be socialized with stakeholders, as well as conducting the necessary program planning to begin execution." You can say, "If we communicate our plan, we can find out what people think of the strategy and get everything in place to take action."
In both instances, jargon can be replaced without sacrificing substance.
3. Remove unnecessary jargon
Sometimes you can't replace jargon with substance – sometimes you just have to cut it out. That's why, "We need to optimize our market-leading footprint if we're going to grow in our vertical," should be replaced by, "We need to sell more to our biggest clients if we are going to remain a market leader in our industry" – and there's no loss of substance.
Leaders strip away all the excess jargon because they want to deliver the idea with clarity.
4. Define any terms you need to use
The only time when it is acceptable to use jargon is when everyone in your audience knows what you are trying to say.
If you have a word that can be used to replace a complex concept or a collective set of ideas, use it – but only if you define it and ensure everyone knows what it means.
This also goes for acronyms. Clients often tell me stories of how their first few months in a new company were spent trying to learn what the acronyms meant.
After a sleepless weekend, Jessica summoned up the courage to ask her boss what he meant. It turned out that Jessica's job was safe – her boss was worried she might leave and was trying to say he was behind her, whatever she might choose to do.
If you want to lead when you speak, cut the jargon and replace it with clarity. Your audiences will thank you.
Bart Egnal (@THG_Bart) is president and CEO of the Humphrey Group Inc., a Toronto-based leadership and communications training firm.