Platitudes and Jargon Are Just….Platitudes and Jargon

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

Dayton Fandray writes a monthly column in the Continental Air Lines in flight magazine called IDEAS@WORK.  I always enjoy his columns.  This month, the article was entitled “Pardon My Jargon: Speak a Language Your Audience Can Understand.”  This is great common sense advice for all three communication skills necessary for career and life success – conversation, writing and presentation skills.

Mr. Fandray began this column by saying that he has a folder of memos that he has collected over the years.  “I keep the lion’s share of these memos because they serve as vivid reminders of everything that is wrong with the art of communication in the modern workplace.  The memos fairly bristle with fractured grammar and tortured logic.  But the most conspicuous offensive is the pervasive use of jargon, buzzwords and fuzzy concepts.”

He shared one memo that a friend sent to him.  It promised to “map the handoffs and all processes in a combined swim lanes uber-process.”  I’m pretty hip to a lot of business jargon as I see it every day.  However, I must admit that “swim lanes” is a new one on me.  If you can explain it in plain English please leave a comment on this post.  You’d be doing me, and a lot of others, a favor.

Mr. Fandray makes an interesting point when he says, “All too often, however, the meaning of the jargon and clichés we commonly use in our memos and presentations is a vague in the mind of the writer as it is in the mind of the audience.”  I hadn’t really thought about it this way – the idea that jargon is a way of allowing someone to make a point that he or she hasn’t thought through very well.  But it makes sense.  If you really understand what you are trying to say, you should be able to say it in simple, easy to understand language – like I try to use on this blog. 

Mr. Fandray quotes Suzanne Bates, author of “Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results” who says “just because it (a jargon word or phrase) has become part of the common language, doesn’t mean that it means something.”

As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of an IBM commercial I saw recently.  A guy walks into a large, dimly lighted conference room where e sees no tables and chairs and about twenty people lying on the floor.  He says, “What are you guys doing?”  Someone answers, “We’re ideating.”  He says, “What’s that?”  Someone responds, “Coming up with new ways of doing things.”  He says, “Why don’t you just call it that?”

Interestingly enough, the word "ideating" sounds like a made up word to me.  I expected spell check to flag it.  It didn’t.  So I guess I am behind the times on some of my business jargon.  Even so, I think saying that you’re “Coming up with new ways of doing things,” is much more clear than saying that you’re “Ideating.”  But what do I know?

There is a common sense point here.  In conversation, writing and presenting, use simple, straight forward language that is likely to be understood by the person or people with whom you are communicating.  Put yourself in the place of the other people.  Use words and language that they are likely to understand.  Be specific.  Don’t hide behind platitudes and vague generalities.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense. 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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