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Having the ability to communicate well, in a fashion that successfully gets your message across, is a challenge in and of itself. Additionally, the dread of public speaking is thought to be the most common fear that people experience (Sisson, 2012). To complicate things further, the use of six types of words and phrases present hurdles that may impede effective communication. Those obstacles include the use of clichés, jargon, slang, sexist and racist language, euphemisms, and doublespeak (McLean, 2010).
Clichés are phrases or words that at one time were original, clever, or unique.
Over time, after being used so often, they have become commonplace and are seen as being trite.
In the business world, the use of clichés indicates to a listener or reader that no original thought was given to the communication. The use of clichés may make it seem as though the speaker or writer of the message has not invested time to find words and ways to express the meaning they are trying to convey (McLean, 2010).
“Let’s think outside of the box,” is a cliché that I hear quite often at work. Instead of asking team members to come up with new, fresh, even cutting edge ideas, programs, or procedures, this phrases gets overused by management.
I am guilty of the use of clichés as well. I teach personal finance classes for children as young as preschool age. During one of my classes, I remember asking a particularly shy child “Does the cat have your tongue?” in an effort to coax her into participating.
She was thoroughly confused and her teacher had to step in to explain that I was asking why she was so quiet and not participating in our activities.
The second type of barrier to communication is the use of jargon. Jargon consists of terms, expressions, or words that employees from a particular line of work may use. Those who do not work in the same field may have difficulty understanding the meaning behind the jargon (McLean, 2010).
I work in the banking industry and the use of jargon is very common in my field. An example that is used daily in my department is DTI or debt-to-income ratio. DTI refers to the percentage of a borrower’s gross monthly income that must be spent to pay all of their debts.
One that I catch myself using while teaching adult financial education classes is PITI. PITI refers to the principal, interest, taxes, and insurance that make up the total of a mortgage payment. Very often, I will say PITI during class only to see blank faces. I then have to stop and explain the meaning.
The third barrier to successful communication is the use of slang. Slang consists of extremely informal words or phrases that only a select few people within a group understand (McLean, 2010).
My husband uses the term L7, which before meeting him, I had never heard. His family is familiar with it and our group of friends have become so over the years. I do not know of anyone else who understands its meaning. L7 describes someone who is “square” or uncool. I have found myself in conversations with co-workers and L7 has slipped out. I have to stop and explain the meaning and I usually give a little background about its use in our family.
The uses of sexist and/or racist language is the fourth challenge to efficient communication (McLean, 2010). Of the six barriers, the use of this form of language in my opinion is the most grievous.
While I have no direct experience with anyone using racist language in a business environment, an employee of one of my previous employers was subjected to sexist comments. At the time, she was interested in a higher position for which she had been trained. She expected the position to be hers and felt that all parties had agreed upon it. However, a man who was hired from outside of the company was given the position. When she asked why she was not promoted to the position, she was supposedly told something along the lines of, “Be a good little lady” and “Stop being uppity and be obedient, missy”. She filed suit and was awarded a settlement.
I have never knowingly used racist language. However, after reading our textbook, I realize that I do call women “girls” at times and young adults who are my son’s age or younger “kids”. I will make a cognizant effort to correct these habits.
The use of euphemisms is the fifth major barrier to communication. Euphemisms are used in substitution for other words and phrases that are deemed too harsh, impolite, or are viewed in a negative way (McLean, 2010).
An example of a euphemism that I have experienced during my professional life is the use of the word “rightsizing” in an effort to downplay downsizing that a company may undertake. A former boss even used this term to explain the reason he was let go from his previous employment. He stated that he had not done anything wrong; he had just been “rightsized”.
As part of my job, I write grants for area non-profits, primarily those who serve the poor or low- and moderate-income clients. I typically use “economically disadvantaged” in lieu of the word poor when writing a grant application. While I feel that this is commonly known terminology, I have had potential funders ask me exactly what I mean by economically disadvantaged.
The last significant challenge to communication is the use of doublespeak. Doublespeak is used to deliberately to hide or evade the truth (McLean, 2010).
An example of doublespeak that I have heard used during my career is “The company is undergoing restructuring” which is typically doublespeak to cover the fact that the business is experiencing problems or is in trouble.
From a personal perspective, I on the board of a non-profit that recently decided to part ways with their director. The director was a contractual employee with an annual contract. Upon expiration of her contract, the board made the decision not to renew it. The group is currently looking for a new director and applicants at times ask why the last director left. The board members reply, “She is pursuing other opportunities” instead of stating that the previous director was let go. While the doublespeak used does not give the complete truth, I think we have an obligation to a former employee to keep the details of the separation confidential.
Being aware and recognizing these six barriers to communication will be very beneficial in overcoming the difficulties that they present. Knowledge of what defines each of the barriers will be helpful in developing better communication skills.
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