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Use and Abuses of Jargon

Use and Abuses of Jargon

In “Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language,” Don Watson shows how business BS-speak is invading everything from public schools to churches. An article in Newsweek magazine called “Attack of the Weasel Words,” includes and interview with the author. In it, Watson says:

“We are all customers. Even the CIA talks about having internal clients. I’m quite sure that in another iteration, the Army will talk about enemy clients. Once they decide we’re all customers then the consequences for basic relationships in civil society are not good. I think the old civilities will do, and I don’t know why we all have to be customers, let alone valued customers. It’s even gotten into religion. St. Martin-in-the-Fields [the Anglican church] in London now has a two-point mission statement out front on the wall. Their first point is the duty to God and Christian charity and the second is to provide excellence in hospitality. For [centuries] they’ve been doing charity and now it’s “excellence in hospitality.”

Watson believes people have decided to live in an economy, not a society, and this vague, overblown language has become so commonplace in people’s professional lives they bring it home with them too.

Jargon is addictive. It’s also useful and harmless in its place. That place is among people who share a defined skill or expertise. Within skilled or professional groupings from doctors to plumbers, jargon is a sensible way to discuss things that apply to their sphere of knowledge. Where you can’t explain what you mean succinctly in ordinary language, a special term everyone within that grouping understands becomes essential. As far back as Biblical shepherds and beyond, special terms like “wethers” (castrated male sheep) have been used and accepted. If a doctor speaks to another medic about vasodilation, both know exactly what’s meant.

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The problem we suffer from today, in business and elsewhere, is the use of jargon and consulting BS by people who neither know what they mean precisely, nor expect those they’re speaking to understand them. Indeed, that’s often the point: to use language that you hope makes you sound like an expert before a non-expert audience. It’s become associated with business consultants because so many of that breed pretend to knowledge they don’t have. It’s known as “keeping one step ahead of the client.” As long as you know a fraction more than your client, you’re the expert.

Politics, with its “spin doctors” and PR spokespeople, is another prime source of the spreading tendency to use language to disguise or confuse. So is the need for politicians to hide lazy thinking or addiction to special interests. Since the media are drenched in pundits pretending to knowledge and politicians trying to sound good, while saying nothing dangerous, it’s hardly surprising business-speak and consulting BS is spreading like a pandemic.

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The answer lies in your hands and mine. If we refuse to accept weasel words from others and insist on saying what we mean in plain terms, even marketers (some of the worst offenders) will stop drenching us in BS. It’s because they think consumers are taken in by meaningless claims to be “customer-centric” or “quality driven” that they use these terms. Talk is cheaper than doing anything to improve quality or service. It’s time we made it clear that we’re expensive, and the currency they must use to buy our attention isn’t management-speak or BS. It’s honest, understandable language backed up by clear action.

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his thoughts most days at The Coyote Within and Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the fun and satisfaction to management work.

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Last Updated on September 15, 2020

7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

Overcoming fear and making life changes is hard. It’s even harder when it’s a big change—breaking up with someone you love, leaving your old job, starting your own business, or hundreds of other difficult choices.

Even if it’s obvious that making a big change will be beneficial, it can be tough. Our mind wants to stay where it’s comfortable, which means doing the same things we’ve always done[1].

We worry: how do we know if we’re making the right decision? We wish we knew more. How do we make a decision without all of the necessary information?

We feel stuck. How do we get past fear and move forward with that thing we want to do?

Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are 7 things to remember when you want to move forward and make positive life changes.

1. You’ll Never Have All the Information

We often avoid making important decisions because we want more information before we make a tough call.

Yes, it’s certainly true that you need to do your research, but if you’re waiting for the crystal clear answer to come to you, then you’re going to be waiting a long time. As humans, we are curious creatures, and our need for information can be paralyzing.

Life is a series of guesses, mistakes, and revisions. Make the best decision you can at the time and continue to move forward. This also means learning to listen to and trust your intuition. Here’s how.

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2. Have the Courage to Trust Yourself

We make all sorts of excuses for not making important life changes, but the limiting belief that often underlies many of them is that we don’t trust ourselves to do the right thing.

We think that if we get into a new situation, we won’t know what to do or how to react. We’re worried that the uncharted territory of the future will be too much for us to handle.

Give yourself more credit than that.

You’ve dealt with unexpected changes before, right? And when your car got a flat tire on the way to work, how did that end up? Or when you were unexpectedly dumped?

In the end, you were fine.

Humans are amazingly adaptable, and your whole life has been helping you develop skills to face unexpected challenges.

Have enough courage to trust yourself. No matter what happens, you’ll figure out a way to make it work.

3. What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Like jealousy, most of your fears are created in your own head.

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When you actually sit down and think about the worst case scenario, you’ll realize that there are actually very few risks that you can’t recover from.

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Once you realize the worst isn’t that bad, you’ll be ready to crush it.

When you’re preparing to make a big life change, write down all of the things you’re afraid of. Are you afraid of failing? Of looking silly? Of losing money? Of being unhappy?

Then, address each fear by writing down ways you can overcome them. For example, if you’re afraid of losing money, can you take a few months to save up a safety net?

4. It’s Just as Much About the Process as It Is About the Result

We’re so wrapped up in results when we think about major life changes. We worry that if we start out towards a big goal, then we might not make it to the finish line.

However, you’re allowed to change your mind. And failing will only help you learn what not to do next time.

Furthermore, just because you don’t reach the final goal doesn’t mean you failed. You chose the goal in the first place, but you’re allowed to alter it if you find that the goal isn’t working out the way you hoped. Failure is not a destination, and neither is success.

Enjoy the process of moving forward[2].

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5. Continue to Pursue Opportunity

If you’re on the fence about a big decision, then you might be worried about getting locked into a position that you can’t escape from.

Think about it a different way. New choices rarely limit your options.

In fact, new pursuits often open up even more opportunities. One of the best things about going after important goals with passion is that they open up chances and options that you never could have expected in the beginning.

If you pursue the interesting opportunities that arise along the path to your goal, then you can be sure that you’ll always have choices.

6. Effort Matters, So Use It

It sounds simple, but one of the big reasons we don’t make life changes is because we don’t try. And we don’t try because then it’s easy to make excuses for why we don’t get what we want.

Flunked that test? Are you stupid? “Of course I’m not stupid. I just didn’t study. I would have gotten an A if I actually studied.”

Stuck in a job you hate? Why haven’t you found a new job yet? “Well, I haven’t really tried to get a new job. I could totally ace that interview if I wanted.”

Why do we make excuses like these to ourselves? It’s because if we try and fail, then we just failed. But if we don’t try, we can chalk it up to laziness.

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Get over it. Failure happens to everyone.

And the funny thing is, if you actually try—because it’s pretty clear that most people aren’t trying—then you’ll win a lot more than you think.

7. Start With Something Manageable

You can’t climb Everest if you don’t try hiking beforehand.

Maybe applying for your dream job seems intimidating right now. What can you start with today?

Can you talk to someone who already has that position and see what they think makes them successful? Can you improve your skills so you meet one of the qualifications? Can you take a free online course to expand your resume?

Maybe you’re not quite ready for a long-term relationship, but you know you want to start dating. Could you try asking out a mutual friend? Can you go out more with friends to practice your communication skills and meet new people?

You don’t need to be a world changer today; you just need to make small life changes in your own world.

More Tips to Help You Make Life Changes

Featured photo credit: Victor Rodriguez via unsplash.com

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