Jargon’s Many Meanings
We all have jargon that’s useful in our industry or company, but we also need to make sure that our message is clear. A clear message means there’s a clear meaning, and a clear meaning is what inspires action, so that means we want to make sure that the words that we use to make that message are clear. This is where we run into trouble with jargon because it has a lot of meaning already attached for some of your audience, a different meaning for another group, and no meaning for others.
A good example of this in action is the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.” Depending on your background, you probably “hear” additional words there: you either hear, “Black Lives Matter too,” or, “Black Lives Matter more.” The thing to remember is that we all make the meaning the same way, even if we come to different conclusions, and that’s where the Red Thread can help.
To reverse-engineer meaning, we need to look for the shared Problems and Ideas of our audience, so that we can find shared Change. Ultimately, we do need to use jargon in some of our messages, but if you ask yourself what a word actually means in your message and lead with that first, you can attach the jargon term to it later and keep everyone on the same page. That’s how you make sure people understand not only what you’re saying, but what you’re meaning as well.
– I had a friend reach out recently, asking if I could please help him help a client to understand how jargon, those code words we all have in our industry or our company, how jargon was getting in the way of the strength and power of their message. Well, that’s one of my favorite topics, so that’s what we’re going to talk about this week on Find the Red Thread. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com.
I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t want their message to be more clear, and that makes sense, because the clearer the message, the clearer the meaning, and the clearer the meaning, the more likely the action we’re looking for will follow. But there’s a challenge here, and it’s one we can all recognize, and that meaning relies on words to get it across, and sure there’s times we get to use additional things like sounds, and images, and even smells, but ultimately words are the currency of ideas. We have to translate our ideas into words before we can articulate them to somebody else, and it takes words for someone to understand what it is that we’re trying to say.
So it makes sense then, if the words have different meaning for people, then we’re going to have a problem, because we’re not going to get the result that we’re looking for. So ultimately that’s the reason why jargon, in and of itself, is a challenge, because it either has no meaning, which means there’s nothing for it to anchor to within the person who’s listening, or it already has another meaning, and that’s where we can get into trouble. That’s where the gap between one side and the other can become a trap.
Here’s what I mean: if you take three phrases that are, on the surface, very simple, but they have a deeper meaning depending on your background, you’ll see what I mean. So for instance, if I say, “Black lives matter,” or, “Netflix and chill,” or, “Bless your heart,” depending on what you associate with those simple words, all the way across, you’re going to have very different reactions, and that’s because of what’s lying in the gap, the gap between one side or the other. The gap between my meaning and yours is filled with the patterns of meaning that are already there, and that leads us to hear things that aren’t there, to hear the additional meaning that surrounds those words.
So, “Netflix and chill” means one thing to one group of people, but if you misunderstand it, I mean, you don’t want Grandma to misunderstand “Netflix and chill,” I mean, bless her heart, that would be awkward, but think about it when it comes to really weighty phrases like “Black lives matter,” depending on the meaning that you already have, you hear additional words there. You hear either “Black lives matter too,” or, “Black lives matter more.” That’s what the meaning that’s already there does.
So how do we resolve this? Well, the resolution lies in the gap itself. It relies on remembering that we make meaning, every one of us, in the same way. We may come to a different conclusion, but we get to it the same way, which means we can use the Red Thread in those questions, not only to engineer meaning, but we can also use it to reverse-engineer meaning out of somebody’s position or somebody’s phrasing.
That means we need to look for what are the shared Problems that we see, what are the shared Ideas, so that we can find shared Change. That might mean that the language needs to change, but ultimately what we’re trying to do is connect on the meaning underneath it, and frankly, that’s the simple explanation for jargon as well: what does the word actually mean that you’re using? Use that word first. Help them understand that that’s what you mean, and then attach the unique term to it. That’s how people are going to make sure— that’s how you’re going to sure that people understand not only what you’re saying, but what you’re meaning as well.
So take a look for those phrases, and those words that you hear, and find the meaning beneath them, and every time you’re working on that clarity, it will help your messages make more sense. Thanks for joining me this week on Find the Red Thread. I’m Tamsen Webster of TamsenWebster.com.