07 May Bafflegab
I stumbled across this wonderful term in my daily vocabulary posting, and thought, “Boy, do I ever relate to this!” Plus, it’s so much fun to say: “Bafflegab!” “Bafflegab!” Try it. You can’t help but smile.
Bafflegab: Confusing or unintelligible jargon. Beautiful! It even sounds like what it is.
I have experienced, no, to be honest, I am sure I have even perpetrated “bafflegab” in meetings, board rooms and private conversations, over the years. Business buzz words, acronyms and insider expressions are intoxicating: when we use them, we feel anointed, selected, chosen, or in-the-know, with a warm sense of belonging, firm in the knowledge that those other guys clearly don’t know WHAT the hell we’re talking about.
As exclusive and self-affirming as it is to exhibit our linguistic prowess, the problem with this is that in our organizations, whether commercial enterprises or non-profits, our objectives are to connect with people, to create inclusion, to foster understanding, to come to agreement and move forward in a unified way.
We are all familiar with the omnipresent trap of the acronym. I use them. In teams and larger groups we get comfortable relying on acronyms for speed and simplicity. EBITDA, LDP, FOB, OIA, ATP, UVP, and so on. These are not so much bafflegab as they are an opportunity to include and teach everyone listening. It is a rare junior team member who will speak up and ask, “Can someone please explain what UBIT means? You all seem to know, but I am in the dark.”
Taking the time to explain UBIT to your young colleague will strengthen your team, create a safe environment for learning, and set an example of inclusion for your company. Plus, your young partner will value your wisdom and leadership. Ultimately, not using a term like “UBIT” is the best choice.
But the really insidious linguistic transgressions are much more vernacular or clubby. “Running it up the flagpole” is the fifties version. These days, we say things like:
”I need a team to parachute in and go get a clawback to avoid the inevitable bad guy we foresee in our optics.” Say what?
“We need a fire drill to level set our exposure and make this into a good guy, then drill down on a deep dive to get our deliverables roughly right.” Anyone remember Mike Nelson and Sea Hunt?
“After we top-grade then on-board our resources, let’s vet the issues and bottom out our forecasts and true up the CAGR estimate.” Huh? Kegger? That sounds good.
If you are too busy to speak in a way that your team members can understand you, are you too busy to build a strong company?
My slim Mandarin training reminds me of a Chinese expression, “Hú shuō”, politely translated as “nonsense”. When speaking to mixed groups, I recommend speaking as if you were speaking to non-native English speakers, avoiding vernacular, buzz words and arcane acronyms. If your setting is one in which you know all the participants and they understand the shared lexicon and culture, have at it, let the hú shuō fly!
Good rules of thumb:
- Speak with your listeners, not at them. Communication only happens when speaker and listener both go “Aha!”
- Look around for those body language triggers and facial expressions of understanding.
- Ask questions: “Does this make sense to you? Is there anything I can clarify? Was I clear?”
Here’s to happy communicating, and, as Daffy Duck said, “EBITDA, EBITDA, EBITDA, That’s all folks!”