Don’t try and be Clever, Stupid: Using language for the layman

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

Do you sometimes get blank stares when discussing IT matters with the business? Or maybe you get push-back on changes you want made, but the push-back is non-specific or seems irrational? Well maybe the reason is because you’ve lost your audience in your use of language. I come across situations very frequently where this is the case.

The truth is, nobody likes to feel stupid. Most people would rather nod on and pretend they understand what’s being said rather than ask for help. The other truth is, IT people like to use jargon and terms that maybe bread-and-butter to them, but it maybe lost in others. Most people, when faced with an unfamiliar IT term, go along with it and try to understand the meaning through the rest of the conversation. Rarely will someone ask“what’s a workload model?”

A lot of IT terms have simple meanings, but unless you know what the term means, it can sound scary. I used the term above – ‘workload model’ – as I saw an example of this just yesterday. The business people didn’t know what it meant and interpreted it as something complicated, put it in the too-difficult-box and dismissed it as something that isn’t useful. If they only knew this meant ‘scenario’.

When IT people ask their business customer to produce something or respond with something, and that something is technical in nature, the customer has to first understand what is being asked for. In their heads they will be constructing a model of what the output looks like. If the output they think they’re being asked to produce isn’t tangible, or if its multi-dimensional, they will struggle to conceptualize it and in the end, give-up. The giving-up will be masked as odd decisions or dismissal. Because it’s a response based on emotion underneath. It can be frustrating.

This is how people respond. They will rarely ask what it means and get to the simple truth!

Unless you possess strong powers of empathy, most IT people won’t know that their audience is lost. If only the language gap could be bridged! Well there is an answer, and that is use Really Simple Words. There aren’t prizes for using the most elegant language, but there are major benefits for being understood. Being articulate is about getting your point across using effective language, not efficient language.

If ‘efficiency’ is important, e.g. your crafting a powerpoint presentation and don’t want to keep repeating yourself, you should use the clever word alongside its simpler meaning upfront. The other option, if you’re publishing content on the web, is to hyperlink obscure words to an online encyclopedia (see what I mean!), dictionary or thesaurus. Give people the option of finding the meaning of the word if you can’t explain it for them.

Don’t try and be clever – it is totally unnecessary. Use the language of the layman and you will achieve much better results.

Check out these similar posts:

2 thoughts on “Don’t try and be Clever, Stupid: Using language for the layman”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. It seems like a beginner mistake too. It’s funny to see the new, smart, IT guy arrive and act all super-techie with the end users, and the more experience they get the more they dumb down everything they say. Over time it just becomes “yeah don’t worry about it i’ll fix it” .. they just quit explaining the problem all together .. 🙂

  2. simonstapleton

    @DigitalMind – thats so true, I’ve experienced this many times. Face it, its hard when you’re trying to break through in your career so you spend a lot of time bigging yourself up, but at the expense of bringing people with you. It’s a mistake that almost everyone makes, but learns about in time!

Leave a Comment

Please note: if you are making a comment to contact me about advertising and placements, read the Advertisers page for instructions. I will not reply to comments about this subject.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
How Am I Doing?

Did this discussion solve your problem?

Then please share this post or leave a comment.