Sometimes – no – many times, we communicators work to advise and counsel our clients to keep things simple. “Keep the jargon out.” “Quit referencing the thesaurus.”

Our clients know their business inside and out. The challenge is to transfer their knowledge into simple, clear and efficient communications to engage employees. If employees understand leadership’s vision, objectives and goals, then it’s easier to move the business forward.

But as we know, clients like their jargon and big words. It’s as if the jargon and big words are the security blanket. So how do we wean the security blanket(s) away from our clients?

One solution is simplicity. We preach simplicity as well as educate and prove the effectiveness of simple messaging. We lead by example.

Here are some thoughts on simplicity and what it means to me, re: internal communications.

Let’s start with the definition of simplicity per Merriam-Websters Dictionary: 

1 : the state of being simple, uncomplicated, or uncompounded
2 a : lack of subtlety or penetration : innocence, naiveté b : folly, silliness
3 : freedom from pretense or guile : candor
4 a : directness of expression : clarity b : restraint in ornamentation : austerity

When mentioning simplicity to clients, it’s important to practice what we preach. For example, when working on client messages, my practice is to start by advising clients to strip out unnecessary words. I look at the complexity of the message. In other words, if I can’t follow or understand the message, a good portion of the audience will understand it as well.

Prioritization is also a key factor. While communicators receive many “surprise” projects during the day, it’s important to establish and be explicit about what is critical and actually needs to be done. Take everything else off the plate, so to speak. Do the hardest thing it is for communicators to do – say NO.

Another factor in keeping things simple is to ask yourself and/or the client “what is the business case” before investing time in the activity. People don’t like that question. They hate it. They don’t like being challenged. In some cases, there is no business case. They hate admitting that. They like doing things the way they have always been done. But, as a communicator, you don’t want to impede driving to results. You want to offer better ways of doing things.

Clarity is important. Ensure the clients fully understand your expectations. Verify that the clients know the business case by asking them to repeat it. You want to avoid confusion and rework.

Manage projects – understand the work requirements and don’t exceed them without a business case.

These are my thoughts. What do you think? What can you add?

Published by


Susan Cellura is a marketing communications professional with over 20 years of experience. She is a dynamic communications professional and enthusiastic team-builder, with a progressive history of success in designing and implementing communications programs for global organizations. A strategic thinker with the ability to understand the needs of multiple audiences and deliver solutions, Susan is a results-oriented problem-solver with exceptional interpersonal and negotiation abilities. Having worked in a variety of global industries, she has grown business communications in her current position via a strong mixture of strategic resources, including social media.

11 thoughts on “Simplicity”

  1. Dear Sue:

    After I read your piece, I started to think about why jargon can’t be killed, why it comes back to life after being stamped out and killed for the thousandth time. Why is jargon as hardy as a noxious weed, as ubiquitous as sin, endowed with many more lives than a cat? Why is the first instinct of people writing to or for a client to express themselves in opaque gobbledygook? Remember, these are the very same people who would read your piece above with nothing but approval–and immediately forget your exhortation. Why do they fall into error and unintelligibility without knowing it? Here are some reasons:

    1. To be simple and direct in one’s writing is very difficult because one fears one will be taken for a simpleton, for a person who is mentally deficient: If you’re that clear, can you be serious? If you’re that simple, have you falsified a complex subject because you don’t understand it? Where is the needful aura of science and professionalism in your writing? Without the mysterious air of science and technology, and the insider’s familiarity with professional jargon, you’ll confuse the client: He or she won’t know how to take you–where are you coming from? Could you be–an idiot?

    2. Jargon is not a series of occasional offenses against a pure mother tongue: It IS the mother tongue, the lingua franca, the pidgin in universal use amongst the 600 million native speakers of English around the world. IT IS EVERYBODY’s REAL NATIVE TONGUE. Good English, pure English, clear English is the rude unwelcome intruder in the flood of gibberish. Good English is felt and resented as an unnecessary reproach by the listener or reader. Why, my darling, literate, intelligent, articulate Susan, you yourself in the piece above permitted yourself to write “Prioritization is also a key factor.” Why did you do that? I couldn’t have said it worse myself. Why do I, in my own writing, find myself, to my horror, using sickening, lying, trashy words like “focus” and “level” and “strategy” and “strategic” and “alignment” and “aligned”? Simply because they’re here, there, and everywhere, on paper and in the air, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year–and obviously in my subconscious and my conscious mind.

    3. Let’s face it: When you want, for political reasons, to say nothing that could possibly offend anybody–and these occasions are apparently legion in the corporate world–jargon is very handy for giving the impression you’ve said something significant without angering a soul. Of course, a good reader, a tenacious reader determined to get at your meaning, won’t stand for this dodge when she or he reads what you’ve written a second time, but how many readers like that are there in corporate America? Damn few, Susan.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on why jargon has Freddie Kruger’s powers of resurrection, Susan.

  2. Ah, Bill. Dear Bill. How I have missed your passion and defense of the English language. So good to hear from you.

    In response:

    1. I love the last sentence of your first point. Yes, people don’t want to look like idiots. Yet it seems that the jargon annoys the audience as well. My favorite comment from a client is “They won’t understand that”. (Um, actually they might understand if you said it in a straightforward matter.) And remember, in some cases companies are looking at one-third of their employees having less than five years of experience. I’m pretty sure the younger employees have not gotten up to speed on all the company jargon.

    2. You’re right. I fell into the trap myself. (I shall punish myself by not eating dessert tonight.) As you say, we probably all fall into the jargon trap. (Although I bet the WoLM are also fierce advocates of scrapping jargon as well.) We don’t always win the battle. And it’s ANNOYING. I know it is in our subconscious minds and that is why it slips out of us as well. Ggggrrrrr…

    3. I agree. Business politics are just as brutal as government politics. (And I suspect Steve C. and Dave M. could really weigh in here.) While the jargon may not anger anyone, it can cause messages to be deleted because the audience doesn’t understand or could not find the information they wanted to hear. (Let’s be proud of being part of the “few”.)

    Freddie Kruger: For all the reasons you laid out and more, jargon will most likely avoid extinction, just as the lowly cockroach has done. It’s safe, people think it makes them look smart, it’s a security blanket, it doesn’t fall apart when confronted by garlic or kryptonite, it feeds on people’s insecurities, it confuses audiences so they don’t respond or ask questions…I’d share more but I must go pick up my daughter. Let’s continue our conversation, though.

    And one last thing. I should change “Prioritization is also a key factor” to “Do what’s most important, damnit”.

  3. Sweet Bill, one more reason jargon is like Freddie Kruger:
    Perhaps young employees entering the workforce hear managers using jargon and think that is part of climbing the corporate ladder. I’d like to think that a young employee could say, “Here’s what’s most important, sir” and get the same reaction as “Here’s how we should prioritize, sir”.

    1. Sue:

      Well, is the careful use of corporate jargon a crucial part of the successful, ambitious corporate climber’s repertoire? If so, how big a part? Would a beginning manager with an MBA who pointedly used correct, simple English in all situations be seen as a fatally eccentric ideologue, a dangerously unbalanced doctrinaire?

      Sue, you should write an essay on “The Man (or Woman) Who Could Not Bring Himself (or Herself) to Say ‘Align Our Resources and Objectives.'” And in this essay, you should deliberately estimate how important the correct use of jargon is to one’s rapid advancement in corporate America. I’m serious!

  4. Bill – I’m in hysterics. I’d like to think that corporate leaders wouldn’t even notice if the climber used correct, simple English. If the climber performs and helps the business achieve its goals, etc., I bet he still climbs. Well…until the executive coach tells him to use more “professional” language. Then he jumps two rungs.

    I like the essay topic and will consider it!

  5. Well, as a card-carrying member of the WOLM club, I’ll happily agree that simple, basic words are always the objective, at least, when I write things they are, but for all of the reasons offered above, albeit at different times, and by different colleagues, the jargon inevitably worms its way back into the stuff despite my herculean efforts.

    Much as I hate to disagree with Susan, I DO think corporate leaders would notice if climbers, or anyone used correct, simple English. In fact, I have personally experienced leaders reviewing materials I have drafted for them and replacing the clear simple words I used with the infuriating “BBB” versions [that’s Bullsh*t Baffles Brains for those of you unfamiliar with one of the few acronyms I can actually get behind. It, and WTF, I applaud, though I can’t and wouldn’t use them in my work writing].

    When I challenge those stupid substitutions, I get drivel like:

    “We need to use more ‘strategic’ language” and:

    “The word you had doesn’t convey the appropriate level of ‘business-focus’ and ‘seriousness of purpose’ of what we’re doing here.”

    Same sh*t, different day. In my opinion, what this all comes down to, is one of two things:

    1) that a lot of executives/leaders really don’t know what the heck they want/need to say, and truly believe peppering the communication with these incomprehensible buzz words will disguise that, or,

    2) they honestly believe the employees are too dumb to figure out that these useless words don’t actually COMMUNICATE anything, and that the employees will magically think the execs know what they’re doing, because they use a bunch of big words.

    That’s precisely why there is so little respect, and so much disdain for the corporate world in general, and most executives in particular. I wish we could go back to the era of Dragnet where Joe Friday consistently reminded us: “Just the facts, ma’am.” Amen, Joe, amen!

  6. Thank you, K, for providing a fabulous example of a direct and simple to understand message. Love the new definition of “BBB”! Wonder what execs would say if we said, “Just the facts”? 😉

  7. Susan:

    I swear that I will read ANYTHING by you or Kristen Ridley on any business subject whatsoever in order to become better informed about the realities of those subjects.

    How strange it is that persons known for their grasp of practical realities (business people) should be the main perpetrators of an attitude and a way of speaking the purpose of which is to cover up the facts by a smokescreen of verbiage.

    Business speech ought to exemplify clarity and simplicity; instead, it is the main source of corruption in our language. How did this happen?

    I believe the answer lies in the way we educate our MBAs and PhDs in graduate schools of business. They are not taught to admire concision, compression, clarity in prose writing. They don’t read the masters of English prose at ANY point in their education, not in high school, and certainly not as undergraduates.

    In fact, they acquire by “osmosis” an attitude that is the exact reverse of what we want: They learn to hate words, spoken and written, and to trust only numbers, equations, models, “paradigms,” and all the rest of the apparatus of pseudo-science.

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