Jargon a talking killer - Clarity in Communication


By Jeff MacKinnon, P.Eng.,PE

I was reminded of a presentation [1] by Al Winfield at ESW 2015 in February after reading point 5 "Replace jargon with clarity." of the hit post 10 top writing tips and the psychology behind them.

Listening to Mr. Winfield I immediately thought about the jargon that is used at the job site, or the office, every day. A great example is "throw the switch", how does someone throw a switch that can weigh hundreds of pounds? When I listened to Al's presentation and then re-read his paper, two items really intrigued me regarding jargon and electrical safety:

  1. If the listener (or reader) doesn't decode the message of the speaker (or writer) no communication has taken place.
  2. You can't throw a switch

Clear Communication

When you are at a tailboard or job box (jargon for pre-job meeting) you must be clear in how you present the details of the job, if the audience doesn't glean the same meaning as you intend no communication has taken place. Don't use words like:

  • prior to
  • at the end of the day
  • as we speak
  • etc

Instead use words that are simple and concise like:

  • before
  • the objective is
  • now
  • etc

Be clear with the job objective, and precise in the communication of the tasks/hazards/etc.

Jargon and Electrical Safety

Every industry has jargon, and those that thrive in it. We use jargon for two reasons, to make others feel stupid and make ourselves feel smart.

Why you use jargon. You think jargon makes you sound sophisticated. Or you're hiding the fact that you don't actually understand what you're saying. - Without Bullshit

Understanding that most of the people you talk with have a 7th grade reading comprehension level, so you should always try to use words that a 7th grader could understand unless there is no substitute.

Using clear language allows listeners to grasp your meaning instantaneously.

Next time you need to throw a breaker make sure you communicate that you really want to open (or close) the breaker, and be sure that everyone around you knows exactly what is going to happen.

[1]The paper - Good Communications - The Essence of Safety