If you have ever started your own business, you will most likely have had to deal with various agreements and documents that are difficult to read, much less fully understand on a first go through. I am referring here to things like shareholder’s agreements, incorporation documents and the various legal and financial contracts that may be necessary for you to run your business.
Until recently, I thought that the most difficult language to understand was legalese. Apparently, legalese is allowed to break all grammatical rules. Some of these documents have sentences that ramble on for an entire page without a period. Check it out sometime. Take a legal agreement, paste it into your word processor, and see what kind of reaction you get from your grammar checker. Mine complains by underlining everything!
Have you ever read the fine print on the back of credit card agreements? Holy Moley! Legalese outdone? I heard recently that a Professor of Law had given a copy of her credit card agreement to her second year students. She gave them all 20 minutes to read it and answer one simple question; what is my interest rate? Not one of them could figure it out. It’s no small wonder that the general population can’t figure it out either.
A few days ago, much to my amazement, the bewildering language of both lawyers and financial institutions were outdone by who I would have thought would be the least likely of culprits, philosophers. My wife Colleen and I were watching a show on TV that featured eight philosophers talking about the meaning of life. I love philosophy and have eagerly explored it all my life. I believe I have a good vocabulary and a reasonable understanding of many philosophical concepts. In all honesty, I understood perhaps 50% of what I heard in that show. Four of the philosophers were easy to follow. The other four, well, Colleen and I looked at each other with blank expressions and asked; “what are they talking about?”
The problem is the overuse, or perhaps, the abuse of vocabulary. While I understand all of the words they used, the complexity of each spoken sentence will require me to watch this show several times to get a handle on what they are saying. This is unfortunate, as I really don’t have the time to do this but would love to know what they were presenting. Instead, my lasting impression is that it was all gobbledygook.
Let me give you an example. Which of the following two sentences do you prefer? Which one conveys to you all you really need to know?
The meandering and nebulous nature of the homily expounded by these cerebrally inclined orators initiated intracranial cephalalgia.
Listening to and trying to understand these well-educated thinkers gave me a deep headache!
I have mentioned lawyers, financial institutions and philosophers. Marketing departments often speak in confusing language as well. For example, in the article Product knowledge is essential to your success, I talk about ‘toning down the jargon’.
When speaking with your clients, please, tone down the jargon. Don’t expect your clients to know all the buzz words. Use simple words and avoid acronyms. For example, avoid this: “We use a SCSI drive backplane architecture with RAID level 5 to provide your enterprise with systems that are fault tolerant thus providing built in redundancies to ensure the availability of your mission critical applications twenty four seven.” Please, find a simpler way to say that. Don’t go too far to the left though. “Dude, our storage solutions really rock” is not a great choice either!
My point in all of this is simple. When trying to communicate an idea to someone, it is my humble opinion that using the simplest language possible is the best option. Showing off your great intellectual prowess is not the point. Successfully communicating the idea is what counts.
The other side of this is even more important to your personal growth and/or the success of your business. When someone says something that you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to say so. Ask for clarification. If none is offered, get advice from a friend or a colleague. Too many people in this world are guilty of pretending to understand things in order to avoid embarrassment. That’s just silly. You are depriving yourself of an opportunity to increase your knowledge. From a business perspective, in order to make good decisions, you need to understand what you are signing, before you sign it. You need to understand your strategies and business philosophies before you state them to your staff and potential clients.
All of that now said, I have a decision to make. Seeing as I recorded the show on philosophy, shall I go back and watch it again or shall I move on to the next article, which is also about communication and how we often misunderstand things because we heard them incorrectly? I already have a title for it…
I think I’ll write more, my cranium will appreciate the break!
All pictures from the MS Word Clip Art Collection
First posted at synaptici