How do you feel about buzzwords? Jargon? “Estate Agentese”? Roy Greenslade at the Guardian says that journalists, at least, are “often amused, sometimes irritated and even occasionally enraged by the attempts to engage their attention by PR outfits” using spectacularly creative turns of phrase.
Mr Greenslade’s comments sum up my feelings fairly well. Whether I laugh or cringe at them, looking up the ‘new business words’ lists is something I actually really enjoy doing. Some examples are brilliant – ‘giving a crystal-ball analysis’ (from a salesman to a customer) not only sums up how vague the projection is, but also adds an ironic air of shadiness to the speaker’s motivations. ‘Boil the ocean’ is clichéd, but is so visually evocative of some hapless soul taking a Bunsen burner down to the coast that it retains a certain droll charm. Phrases like ‘pain point’, however, are not so engaging – cuts in your department’s budget or staffing levels might be described as an irritation, inconvenience or disaster; they almost certainly won’t clear up just by taking asprin and a lie-down in a dark room.
Although part of me (the precise, English graduate part) gets itchy teeth at the thought of made-up words, another part (the laid-back English graduate part) thinks that if Shakespeare can pull words from the ether, so can you or I, or anyone else for that matter. The first audience of Macbeth probably had someone tutting disapprovingly at the bit where our titular character is said to have ‘unseamed’ an opponent in battle – what was then a new coinage is now accepted as an official, dictionary-worthy entry. Impede, multitudinous, barefaced, assassination and ‘what’s done is done’ also make their first appearance in the play, effortlessly blending with our modern “impactful rainmaking agents of change”.
In terms of whether buzzwords are the path to effective communication, the best answer is an ‘agnostic’ one. Effective communication, to me, is about giving and receiving understanding. It involves clear, direct speaking and active, considered listening. The particular nuances of how this happens largely depend on the people in conversation. If those people are comfortable with the meaning and tone set by buzzwords, then impediments to clear, effective communication are greatly reduced. Everyone is on the same page and shooting at the same target, so to speak.
However , if people have different levels of understanding, perspective and comfort when using buzz terms, problems are likely to occur. Furthermore, if this discomfort is a) obvious and b) isn’t recognised and responded to, there could be feelings of resentment and reluctance towards the non-responsive party, affecting the relationship between people on a deeper level. This is also why Roy Greenslade’s point about some PR companies using buzzwords is so pertinent: an industry specialising in communicating effectively with different groups of people in fact risks alienating some of those people, because the language that is supposed to make things simpler and shorter is having the opposite effect.
The ‘takeaway’ from this? Communication must meet the needs of the people in the conversation – and those needs are best established through clear communication.