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Lose the jargon to connect with a more diverse community

Here's inspiration to speak plainly, choose inclusive language to reflect diversity, and let you sound like you

Are you or your team always putting out fires? Are you in a holding pattern until someone circles back? Perhaps you'll ballpark the numbers until you can drill down those financials? We all recognize how familiar (and overused) metaphors slip easily into everyday conversations. Such words may be harmless, of course. But consider how verbal shortcuts, clichés and office jargon may detract from what you really have to say. Or, worse: some words and phrases may unintentionally exclude or offend people in your life or who you want do business with. Here's inspiration to speak plainly, choose inclusive language to reflect diversity, and let you sound like you.

Ease off verbal crutches

We all have verbal tics that we use when pausing between thoughts, or that sneak in automatically as filler. To be honest. Definitely. At the end of the day. For what it's worth. Literally. Whatever. If you catch yourself saying, or writing, a particular phrase over and over (and over) again, chances are your audience may hear it as overused and unoriginal.

Recognize hidden stereotypes

Be sensitive to language that may exclude or stereotype people based on age, gender, race, sexual orientation, physical ability, mental health, or other characteristics. This is not so much to make a list of words to avoid, but to be aware of the impact of the words we use, through the lens of others.

Instead of...    try
Crazy/psycho/insane/nuts interesting/strange/peculiar/funny
Blind spot gap in understanding
Disabled person
a person with a disability

Be sensitive to word origins

Many sayings are so commonplace we overlook their origins. A bit of research may reveal certain words and phrases as outdated or offensive, unintentionally carrying stereotypes or cultural appropriation. For instance, the history of the term "grandfathered", describing a person exempt from new rules, is rooted around 19th century laws that suppressed African American voters. Even if said innocently, be sensitive to words that may disrespect a community.

Instead of...    try
exempted or legacied
Blacklist or whitelist    deny or allow
Pow wow   gathering
Tribe   people/community
Guru    expert/pro 

Give sports lingo a time out

An echo of the "old boys" network, sports metaphors have become ingrained in North American office talk. Don't feel pressured to become part of this team! Whether it's a slam dunk, par for the course, or the ball is in their court: if your audience doesn't share an interest for the sport, these words and phrases won't resonate. 

Instead of...    try
Game changer made a difference
Fumble made a mistake
Par for the course
as expected

Use simple words

Plain language helps everyone understand what they read or hear, so they can make good decisions based on information you share. Even people with high literacy skills will gloss over text that's too wordy, complex or technical. 

Instead of...    try
In the event that if
Strategize plan
Validate confirm, make sure

Avoid gendered language

Calling a group of women “ladies” or a group of men “guys” may be gender-affirming when you're addressing a very specific audience, but not unless you know the gender identity of everyone you're speaking to. Using gender-neutral or inclusive language is a way to respect and acknowledge gender identities of all people, without making assumptions. Gender pronouns are fluid and the preferred language may change over time. If you're uncertain how someone wishes to be addressed, reword to refer to "they" and avoid the "he- she, him-her" binary.

Instead of...    try
Hi guys Hi everyone
Husband/wife spouse/partner
Chairman chair/chairperson

Try to ELI5 your wisdom

"Explain Like I'm Five-years-old" is inspired by the acronym of a quirky internet forum for layperson-friendly explanations. The goal is to provide clear, simple answers to complicated questions. Warren Buffett, the 91-year-old investing legend, writes his folksy annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders as if he was talking to his sisters, Doris and Bertie. He told CNBC in 2019: "I pretend they've been away for a year and I'm reporting to them on their investment."

Talk business in plain language

Every specialized field develops its own vocabulary, with acronyms and verbal shortcuts acquired over years of study and industry functions. If you're talking through PowerPoints packed with technical terms and acronyms, ask yourself if there's a simpler way to communicate the idea. Would a graph or an example help clarify? Will your audience understand the jargon or tune out the message? Understanding is the basis of trust. Communicating in plain language is also essential to be accessible to many audiences. For instance: people who have difficulty reading words or numbers; anyone working in a second language; or those who may be under stress or time constraints.

Appeal to diverse audiences

Research shows that many people – of different cultures, communities, income levels, generations and gender – feel the financial system doesn’t speak to them. Clear, inclusive language isn't just about finding the right words for an audience, it's the key to develop a unique voice for your brand and lasting relationships in the communities you serve.

Don't let jargon and buzzwords obscure what you have to say. Language that's less scripted, more thoughtful and genuine lets Clients know that they matter and that you are open to their needs. 


This article, published by SLGI Asset Management Inc., contains information in summary form. This article is provided for information purposes only and is not intended to provide specific individual financial, investment, tax or legal advice. Information contained in this article has been compiled from sources believed to be reliable, but no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made with respect to its timeliness or accuracy.