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Avoid An International Incident: Lose The Jargon

A leading cause of poor organizational communication is the overuse of , those industrial phrases, buzzwords, euphemisms, abbreviations, and acronyms that compose our professional vocabularies. When everyone participating in a conversation knows the lingo, there's seldom any problem. But, as a story in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal recounts, when participants find jargon confusing, using it can backfire.

When delivering a speech to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations in September, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick urged China to address its large trade surplus with the United States and to slowdown its military buildup. In his speech, Zoellick used the popular business buzzword stakeholder seven times. "We need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder," he said.

While U.S. officials in attendance understood Zoellick's meaning, Chinese translators were befuddled. As it turns out, there is no Chinese equivalent for the word stakeholder, so Chinese attendees were left mystified. Within hours, Washington officials found themselves responding to Chinese delegates who were demanding to know the meaning of the word.

Every year, new words and catchphrases enter our business vocabulary and many leaders are quick to incorporate the latest terminology into their oral and written communications. Suddenly, we must incentivize our workers, resolve disconnects, and yes, consider our stakeholders. But if your organization lists open communication among its core values, overusing jargon will destroy your credibility as a leader.
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