How to Cut Through Technical Jargon

July 10, 2019 | By Firefield CEO and Founder, Adam McGowan

For those of you that follow me, you probably know that I don’t have a particularly soft spot in my heart for jargon.

Generally, I don’t like it.

At the same time, if you’ve been around me enough, you may have even seen me use it. So you’d have to ask yourself, how do those two things equate? And how is it that Adam’s not a hypocrite?

Well, I think that there are three ways that jargon gets used.

1. You use technical jargon to look smart

The first way is to suggest intelligence, and I think that it gets used when someone assumes there’s some imbalance in information and that if you throw more terms around, it makes you look smarter and possibly gives you an advantage.

2. You throw around jargon while trying to inflate your experience

I think the second way it gets used is, frankly, as bulls***. I think it’s used when you perceive that there is this imbalance, and then you decide that you’re going to advance your position, usually when you don’t actually have the chops to win that job or promotion or project on your own. And so when you think somebody doesn’t quite understand what you’re talking about, you keep ramping up the jargon to a place where, quite frankly, you’re not being truthful anymore and you likely don’t understand the terms yourself.

3. You drop in jargon when you’re talking to people inside your industry

Categories one and two aren’t great, but category three, I think, is OK.

Category three is when you use the jargon to actually shortcut a situation. The only way that you can use that effectively is if the entire audience is up to speed on the terminology. And I hope that if people have seen or heard me use it, this is the category when that happens. If I’ve got a full table or audience of individuals where we all have the same background on the topic, great. Use it to shortcut, if it’s appropriate and if it actually adds more productivity or efficiency.

If it doesn’t, don’t use it. By default, don’t use it.

So only use it when you can actually qualify in that bucket number three. And, more importantly, when you find people in buckets one or two,
you’ve got to really question if they’re a tech partner, if they’re the employee, if they’re the relationship that you need.

And if you see me doing it, call me out.

This post is a lightly edited transcript from my Tech for the Exec video here:

Check out more of my content about technical decision-making for leaders on the Tech for the Exec blog.