My dad is currently visiting with me. His native language is French, and while he has been fluent in English for decades, when we spend time together, I notice how much communication misses him in day to day encounters here in the US. Be it a hostess at a restaurant, or one of my friends, my dad has to focus a lot more than me to keep up with conversations. How can that be, if he’s been fluently speaking this language longer than I have been alive? Simple, we use a lot of coded language in day to day communications, and if the person we are speaking with isn’t using the same frame of reference, it can be very exclusionary.

Nowhere do I see this more than business meetings and sales meetings. Sit in on a business meeting and pull out your BT Bingo card (BT = Business Talk). It won’t be long before phrases like “Synergize it”, “EBITDA”, “Boil the ocean”, “scale it”, “out of the loop”, “Paradigm shift”, “market disruptor” and others allow you to yell out BINGO in victory. I actually heard a sales rep describe a belief as a “Canard” the other day.  That’s all good and well if your audience is speaking classical English, but canard translates as “duck” in French, so if you use that expression with someone like me, a visual of a duck appears in my head, which isn’t what the rep was trying to communicate.

Typically, when someone in a meeting starts dropping a bunch of business speak or “marketese” on me, I try to identify their intent behind the use of that type of language. I have found that there are three main possibilities.

1) They are assuming that I speak the business talk from the same base of reference that they have. They assume I speak the lingo.

2) They are doing it as a way to qualify my knowledge of their lingo. It’s a test of sorts. They want a better read on me and what I know/don’t know, and my responses give them insight into my thinking.

3) They are doing it on purpose, as a way to show they know more than me, or claim their spot as an “insider” into their world. 

Before I address why these are all flawed motivators, allow me to insert a disclaimer. I love language. I really do. I absolutely embrace the idea that an extended vocabulary creates a positive impression in most cases, and I celebrate the use of good vocabulary. However, the 1st rule of communication is to speak in a way that your audience can relate to. Be that tone, pacing, word choice, or any other element. Sales professionals are the ones responsible for creating the bridge to communicate effectively. By all means, use words or phrases like “ROI” or “to market strategy” when appropriate. You don’t need to dumb down things automatically. You also don’t need to gussy them up for no reason. 

Let’s look at the broken motivators behind excessive “Business talk” and why they don’t work.

1) Never assume anything. Pre-call research and targeted questions should lead you in a direction based on being informed, not on assumptions. If the person you are selling to is a lawyer, then using legal jargon makes sense. Just because you binged the last 3 seasons of Suits last weekend, doesn’t mean the person you are selling to is going to follow your use of that kind of language. They won’t tell you, for fear of looking stupid, so your assumption will disrupt the creation of trust.

2) No one likes a test, especially one that was not pre announced and shows up as a pop quiz. The smart subject will feign ignorance or downplay it, giving you a false sense of confidence. The out of the loop ones will pretend to follow and put you back into scenario #1. Until you know, default to asking, “What kind of return do you want to see?” instead of “What’s the target ROI compared to YTD EBITDA?”

3) Sales is a lousy place to meet your ego needs. If you are playing “look how much smarter than you I am” games with prospects, you are letting your ego steer the conversation, and once again, you are NOT building trust.

There’s also the risk that your interpretation of a phrase or word might be different than theirs, or even worse, flat wrong. I attended a speech for a 9/11 memorial ceremony this week. A senior town official asked us to let a thought “resignate” for a moment. he meant resonate. Then he was pleased to “introduct” the next speaker, instead of introduce. I know this man and I know he knows the correct use of both of those words. His attempt to speak outside his comfort zone caused him to misspeak in both those moments. The loss of credibility with the audience was palpable………oops, I mean obvious.

Authenticity is one of the pillars of trust. Clarity is one of the pillars of communication. Business talk cliches will ding both. You’re not helping yourself, and even if you are not coming from one of the three motivators above, it shows a lack of awareness of your prospective client not to talk in a direct and clear way that THEY understand and are comfortable with. 

A few years back, my then 9 year old son, tried to engage my dad in a conversation about Star Wars. He used terms and concepts like “the force”, “Jedi mind trick”, and “the dark side”.  He missed the mark completely, just as badly as if my dad, with a career in banking, had replied with talk about “asset allocation”, “portfolio diversification,” and “collateralized debt obligation”. 

Politicians, bankers, lawyers and yes, salespeople love to throw around big words to make simple things sound complicated. An insurance policy sounds super complex when you call it a “credit default swap”. That makes it easier to take advantage of buyers. Then we wonder why the use of fancy terms causes a drop in trust? Really?

This is not an instruction to be “plain spoken”. It is a suggestion to be clear and concise, in terms that the person across the table from you understands. Avoid using words for the wrong reasons.