In these unprecedented times, we all must pivot to embrace the new normal and think outside the box, in the hopes that we will succeed in the remote work economy. 

You’ve no doubt heard any number of these combinations of phrases in advertising, the news, and especially our own offices. How many of us began a prolonged eyeroll every time we were told by a bank, a grocery store, or our employers—against a backdrop of dramatic string music and masked frontline workers—that we were “all in this together.”  

In the space of a few weeks, organizations littered every platform with slogans and jargon aimed at reimagining brands as essential operators in a pandemic-ravaged business landscape. While these are all great for PR, the reality is that when every brand is copying each other, no one is saying anything genuine. Once that occurs, trust goes out the window. 

Which brings us to the notion of jargon in general. For example, I use “pivot” all the time, probably to levels of annoying that only my colleagues can attest to. We’re all guilty of using (sometimes to egregious degrees) the shorthand of our industry in combination with… 

Some of jargon’s Greatest Hits… 

  • Change agent 
  • Stakeholder 
  • Baked in 
  • Holistic 
  • Disruption 
  • Value add 
  • Deep dive 

These are only some of the terms and phrases we rely on. But what do we mean when we speak openly with clients and co-workers? Jargon adds a level of distance to communication that euphemizes our daily work into something more nuanced than it really is. What’s more, we may be using it in situations where we don’t know the correct way forward; the jargon becomes a placeholder for “real” information.  

Connections are made with deep empathy and strong, visible values. When jargon takes the place of genuine talk, it puts a barrier up between the speaker and the audience. Though it can save time with those we work closest with, pay attention to how you’re using casual jargon rather than really communicating. It’s not about self-policing your own language—it’s about choosing clarity over muddying the waters of conversation. 

EXAMPLE: When you say, “Let’s put a pin in this and circle back” do you REALLY mean “I’m not sure how my team fits here, and rather than drawing attention to that fact, I’d rather delay talking about this?” 

EXAMPLE: When you say, “We need to approach this in a holistic, humanized way” do you REALLY mean, “We need to appear empathetic rather than doing the hard work of BEING empathetic?” 

Let’s get it straight: it’s not a crime to use jargon. It’s not a cardinal sin to abbreviate terms that need abbreviation. But what we can do is to trust ourselves not to need jargon as a work prop. We need to trust those we work with—and for—that what we say isn’t just a series of words to fill up space within the silence. It takes much more courage to be vulnerable, say “I don’t know how I fit in,” and deal with the language we share rather than the language of separation.  

“Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstance require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.”
– Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit 

“When jargon takes the place of genuine talk, it puts a barrier up between the speaker and the audience. ”