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Removing jargon from your 'toolbox'

March 2, 2015

 

I’m on the exciting journey of connecting with new and interesting people having recently relocated to Tokyo for my Husband’s job. Moving to a new country where of course most people’s first language is not English, presents interesting challenges across the ‘settling in’ requirements.

 

One challenge it has uncovered is my need to adjust my reliance on jargon when speaking in a professional setting. Whilst this is something I consciously practice when speaking to different audiences it seems something I remain guilty of.

 

As I sit before person after person enjoying coffees and sharing stories, I continue to come across words that until now I had not recognised as jargon. We all encounter and use industry specific terms in our professional lives; the question is can you say what you mean in a simpler way that engages a wider and more diverse audience?

 

A great example of an organisation taking a stance against jargon is the UK Government’s introduction in 2013 of a guide for communicating with the public. This guide included a large list of terms that were now to be excluded from official communications, ensuring government employees could no longer ‘drive’ anything out (unless it is cattle) or ‘foster’ anything (unless it is children) to name a few.

 

Design is full of sexy words at the moment; some get thrown around without a genuine understanding of what they mean, what they do or indeed how to express these concepts in different ways.

 

As design re-imagines its role in society we continue to work with specialists across a vast number of disciplines and industries. When working in a collaborative manner with people such as psychologists, ethnographers, economists, technologists, social justice advocates and policy experts the challenge is to communicate in a way that enables a greater understanding by all.

 

Here's some simple techniques I’ve learnt along the way:

  • Show me what you mean: handing someone a marker and asking them to draw you stick figures or a diagram of what they are trying to express is very insightful. Often in these situations I have found this to uncover a misalignment of our understanding.

  • Deconstructing the sentence: sounds like something you were taught in a high school exam preparation class, but deconstructing a sentence can be helpful not only for communicating with others but for your own understanding of something.

  • Repeat what was said: simply repeating back what someone has said by saying ‘if I’ve heard you correctly I understand that you said…’ is not only a powerful way to clarify your understanding but it makes the person you are speaking to feel valued and understood.

  • Mean what you say: try to be present in what you are saying and conscious of your word choices.

  • Like terms: there’s a fancy word for this that I will refrain from using here. Finding words that have similar meanings can help you explore that term from different perspectives and create meaningful conversations when working in groups.

  • 'Tell me a time when...' - helping others articulate what they are thinking has long been a designer’s job. When dealing with emotions, it can be useful to ask the person to tell you a time when they felt this emotion, such as 'accomplished'. I enjoy these stories the most when working with new groups of people, it allows you to get to know people a little better whilst giving a greater dimension to this emotion for all.

  • Know your audience: using industry specific terms and acronyms with your fellow industry colleagues is one thing but not helpful if you’re talking at a cross industry event. I’ve even encountered this internally in organisations between different job roles – often I need to stop meetings sheepishly put my hand up to ask what the 5 letter acronym is that we’re so furiously discussing.

Professional conversations should be just that, two-way exchanges of information, insights and emotions; if the person you are speaking to can not understand you then you’re not doing your part. My next challenge is to decommission the Australian slang I have become painfully aware of-this might take a while! Oh and while I’m at it watch me tag my post with cool jargon.

 

 

 

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