Bull: meaningless jargon
Bull reeks in our office halls, conference rooms, and cubicles.
But why are so many business people fond of spouting confusing words, useless acronyms, and vague phrases with foggy interpretations?
My experience is, people think it makes them sound smarter. Or using Bull implies they have certain knowledge and insights the listener lacks. Of course, using Bull has the opposite effect. Like people you know who use clichés too much. You avoid them like the plague.
Jargon can be useful.
I’m not saying you should never use jargon. It can be a convenient shorthand. Jargon is essentially code words used among a particular group of people to convey mutually-agreed-upon meaning.
Most professions have their own unique jargon lexicon. Here’s a list of medical slang. And here’s a list of buzzwords your favorite software engineer might use.
Jargon can also hurt your business.
Bull is not just tedious and confusing. It can harm your business in many ways:
• Customers don’t understand your marketing messages, and don’t respond
• Employees have no idea what your mission, vision, and values mean
• Colleagues miscommunicate goals, expectations, and deadlines
• Employees waste hours re-reading emails in a vain attempt to decipher the meaning
• People make the wrong decision – or no decision – because of vague communication.
Two simple ways to fight the Bull in your job.
1. Start telling people when you don’t understand them.
We sit in a confused stupor during meetings. We read reports that seem to be written in an obscure foreign language. We endure presentations clouded with rambling monologues and cluttered slides.
But most people remain silent. They nod knowingly, scribble a few useless notes, and pretend to understand every word.
Stop doing that! There are hundreds of ways you can let your colleagues know they’re not making sense. Here are a few examples:
“Hey Bill, I’m confused by what you just said. Could you rephrase that for me?”
“Mike, it sounds like you’re saying our schedule has changed, did I get that right?”
“Hi Barb, I received your email but I’m not clear on what you’re asking me to do. Do you have a minute for a quick phone call to clarify this? I want to be sure I give you the details you’re looking for.”
2. Don’t use Bull in your communication.
Lead by example. Write and speak in clear language, with words and phrases your reader understands.
For example, use specifics instead of generalizations.
“Please review attached and reply accordingly ASAP.”
“Please take a look at the costs on page 7 and let me know if I show them accurately. The client asked me to send this to her before 5:00pm today, so if you have changes, I’ll need your reply before 4:00pm. Thanks!”
Avoid jargon unless it is a common term in your organization, and you are certain your reader knows the meaning.
For example, instead of:
“From an end-user perspective, we’re pushing the envelope here. So I want to keep you in the loop and think outside the box on ways to pick the low hanging fruit going forward.”
“During our meeting yesterday, Sheryl told me she has a few concerns about our strategy. Do you have time for a meeting today to talk about ways to simplify the phased-in approach we suggested to her?”
To help you get started on your journey to Bull-free writing, here’s a list of common Bull words, and words that work better.
So jump into the ring and tackle the Bull in your office. You’ll help make our world a better place. Olé!
“The single biggest problem in communication
is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw
Things we like.
Watch a master of our language at work here.
Things to ponder.
If you insist on joining in the Bullfest and want to sprinkle your communication with meaningless jargon, here’s a handy chart to guide you.