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Posted by on Jan 24, 2012

Fancy Pants Language

As I listened to a coaching session recently, an insight suddenly hit me. I realized that in the many hours of coaching I’ve done and listened to for observation purposes, I have never heard anyone speak in what I call “fancy pants” language.

Fancy pants means convoluted, long-winded, and jargon- and abstraction-laden language. It is the opposite of plain language, where the goal is to get to the meaning of what is being said as quickly and accurately as possible.

(Full disclosure: I’m from Independence, MO, home of Harry “Plain Speaking” Truman.)

It made total sense to me that anyone working with an executive coach would want to get to the point clearly, and communicate in a way that worked.

And so the question that came up was: Why would anyone do anything different? Why would leaders engage in buzzwords, clever concepts and ambiguous phrases?

I think the answer is complicated, and probably related to several factors.

First, there is a desire to impress or influence.

Second, there may be (and this is probably mostly unconscious) a desire for other people to think you’re smart.

Third, it may just be what you’ve learned.

In my experience, the more the language shifts from clear, understandable and direct, the more distrust arises. People have to parse through to figure out what is meant. They may feel like they don’t know everything the other person is talking about. Distance is created.

Here is an example for contrast:

“We need to upskill enterprise-wide in order to leverage emerging and strategic ios opportunities go-forward.”

Notice it doesn’t say where or how the “upskilling” will happen, what the opportunities are, or how they will be “leveraged.” Also, what is ios? Is it a misspelling?

How about instead:

“We need to learn how to get our information onto mobile devices so customers can see our information wherever they are.”

Which would you rather hear? Which would you be more likely to get behind?

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