What are your words worth?
Words are symbols. They are sounds or graphic images designed to convey meaning. That meaning is invisible. It lies within the mind of your reader or listener. Your words are intended to make that meaning clear.
As we listen to someone speaking, or we read from a text, we are continuously interpreting the words and assigning meaning to that interpretation. And the meaning we give the words is filtered through our life experiences, expectations, perceptions, mood, and many other influences. I call that context.
Persuasive communication starts with your willingness to focus on your reader’s context. And then using words that convey a clear idea for your reader.
I’m not suggesting you should never use technical terms, or make obscure references. Why that would be floccinaucinihilipilification!
My request is this: Use words with intention. Jargon and acronyms are fine. If they convey a clear idea for your reader.
Think of words like the list below that you hear flying around your office, and define what they mean to you.
This issue is urgent
That information is outdated
I’ll get back to you in a bit
We’ll need to move our meeting ahead
Send it to me by close of business on Friday
Skin in the game
We can’t afford that option
Start with the low-hanging fruit
Let’s circle back
I’d like you to reach out to the client next week
I can hear you all reading, and the meanings I hear you saying are all different!
There are thousands more examples of vague jargon. See a list of 101 here: Business Jargon
To me, it’s not simply that words like these are annoying, or overused. But more importantly, they do not convey clear meaning.
For example: we’ll need to move our meeting ahead.
Is ahead closer to now, or farther into the future? Does it mean this week, or the week after next?
It would be clear to write: we’ll need to move our meeting to this week, what day is best for you?
I’m not saying you should always avoid business jargon. Or that you should never use a cliché. But please, just count your chickens before they cross the road.
“It is a cliché that most clichés are true,
but then like most clichés, that is untrue.”
- Stephen Fry