Why I wish HR would use language with more care

17th July 2014 | Posted in Uncategorized

Jargon is an old word. Most sources trace the origins back to early French where it meant ‘twittering’, though I presume that means ‘of birds’ rather than ‘celebrities telling the world what they had for breakfast’. No matter, today we’re mostly clear that jargon is technical language with a particular meaning in a particular context and my plea is that HR, more than any other part of the business world, should make a concerted effort to stop it.

It is probably not true that jargon began in medieval trade guilds where cunning merchants could talk with one another using jargon customers couldn’t understand but the story illustrates the problem. If you’re on the inside, jargon’s just fine. If you’re on the outside, it’s just gobbledygook. Gobbledygook which excludes you, makes you feel stupid and confuses you. Since part of our purpose in HR is to speak with people who aren’t in HR, why on earth would we choose to do so in a language they don’t understand?

A quick scan of my twitter timeline gives me the following: ‘talent management, transformational management, talent mobility, talent acquisition, pre-employment process, EVP, LGBT, and COBRA’. I think this means ‘employing and developing good people, changing things, moving people between roles and countries, recruitment, administrating new staff, making yourself attractive to people you’d like to work here, people who have different sexual preferences to my own and’ …well, I don’t know actually. When even long-established concepts like OD and CSR have multiple definitions, why are we adding to the decaying pile of confusion with more landfill we can’t re-cycle?

Experience of working with people tells me it’s mostly about communication. Experience of jargon-rich environments teaches me that it’s either someone trying to sell you something or it’s someone who lacks either the confidence or intelligence to express things simply. Is that how we want to appear to the organisations we work with? When George Orwell wrote ‘Politics and the English Language’ in 1946 he said:

‘But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.’

I think HR should and does know better.

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