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How to Drop Workplace Jargon and Communicate Clearly

Lakshmi Hutchinson profile image

Lakshmi Hutchinson

woman talking on a mobile phone

Do overused “business-speak” phrases irritate you each time you hear them used in the office? Jargon from the corporate and tech fields has crept into the day-to-day vocabulary of other sectors, including nonprofits. You may have even caught yourself repeating some of these same clichéd terms. Luckily, you can make the decision to stop using jargon, and express the same ideas with more clarity and confidence.

Vague wording

  • “What are the key learnings from this project?”
  • “I don’t have the bandwidth to discuss it right now.”
  • “Great—another example of siloed thinking from your team.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Certain phrases have been so overused as to be rendered meaningless. Sometimes they’re used to convey a sense of business expertise, but they can also be used as filler or to avoid discussing a sensitive issue. When you look closely, a term like “siloed thinking” is vague and actually glosses over what could be a major organizational problem that should be addressed—that is, teams not sharing information. 

Everyone does it ... so what’s the problem?

Jargon and buzzwords spread rapidly through organizations. All it takes is one leader to mention a “deep dive,” and by the next week the phrase is used in every meeting. The theory of groupthink certainly applies to this use of language within an office. But besides being mildly annoying, jargon is actually hurting meaningful communication.

  • Since business jargon often doesn’t convey specifics, people are likely to tune you out during presentations. This is especially true if they are used to hearing the same phrases over and over from others as well. 
  • If you’re communicating with an audience outside of your organization, using unfamiliar jargon could result in your being misunderstood. Relying on jargon can also hinder fundraising efforts because the overused terms don’t differentiate your organization from others or inspire any investment. 
  • Buzzwords can be lost in translation. If you work with international partners, idioms and business slang pose a problem for understanding.

How can we communicate more clearly?

Consider alternative words or phrases that you can use in place of tired jargon. Is there a more descriptive or honest way of getting your point across? 

  • Asking “What lessons can we learn from this setback that could inform our other programs?” is much more straightforward (and grammatically correct) than compiling a list of “learnings.”
  • When communicating about your social-impact work, think of yourself as a storyteller. You want your story to be compelling and unique, and that requires thoughtful language.
  • Some terminology may be so ingrained in your field that you may not even realize that it’s jargon. Run your work by people who are “outsiders” to see if what you are saying makes sense. 

No matter what, don’t feel pressured to use the same terminology as others in your office. The thing about jargon is that we already know to avoid it—we just hear it so often that it eventually seeps into our vocabulary. But rest assured: nobody will miss it if you don’t use it. You may even find that people are more interested in what you have to say.

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How have you experienced—or eradicated—office jargon? Tell us on Twitter!

Lakshmi Hutchinson profile image

Lakshmi Hutchinson

Lakshmi Hutchinson is a freelance writer with experience in the nonprofit, education, and HR fields. She is particularly interested in issues of educational and workplace equity, and in empowering women to reach their professional goals. She lives in Glendale, California with her husband, twin girls, and tuxedo cat.

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