Jargon – the great seperator!

Jargon.  We all use it, but what effect does it have when we are trying to influence someone?

Let’s start here:  People, human beings, are tribal by nature.  We seek to classify people as “us” or “them.” If they are an “us” then they can be trusted, if they are a “them,” then everything they say and do is suspect, if not flat-out disbelieved.  The level of that disbelief depends on which “them” category we file them in.  We do this without thinking.  With conscious effort we can overcome this (Personal Growth!), but how much energy do you think prospects expend on overcoming this tendency when approached by a person trying to sell them something or asking them to challenge a belief they hold?  In my experience the answer to that question is, “not a lot.  Not a lot at all!”  So, how do we address this as influencers?

Lets answer that question by taking a look at some of the ways that people start to make those classifications.  In my experience the process begins with judging how someone looks.  (Before you start to light the comment section on fire, I know that we are taught from a young age that this is wrong, and yet, as a veteran of many professional and social events on different continents I can attest to this reality being alive and well!)

  • Do they dress like me?
  • Do they carry themselves like me?
  • Are their mannerisms like mine?

As we are, often subconsciously, making those assessments we then start to analyze their speech.  If we are on the phone for our initial contact with our prospect this is where the “us” and “them” sorting starts.  If not, it happens after the visual cues.KidScreamingMicrophone

  • Does this person sound like me (rate of speech, tone, accent)?
  • Do they speak the way I do (similar word usage, apparent education level)?
  • Can I understand what they are saying?

Now, quite clearly, we can’t control all of the factors that our prospects/audience will judge us on, but as influencers it behooves us to control what we can.  And chief among the “controllable” things is the use of Jargon.

Jargon is defined as:




  1. special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.
    “legal jargon”

Here’s where it gets INTERESTING!

Jargon in and of itself isn’t bad.  It’s the USE of jargon that is good or bad.  As a matter of fact, using jargon INTERNALLY builds a sense of community.  So, if we are trying to influence a person INSIDE our organization we would use our organization’s jargon.  However, when we are speaking to people outside our, “us” group we operate differently.

Here is the key to communicating with prospects from outside your “us” group:

Don’t use YOUR jargon, use THEIR jargon!

Example:  If you are selling staffing services in the technology space, when you are doing your pre-call planning (you ARE doing pre-call planning, right?) use the language that you see and hear in your research.  Use the language that you hear your prospects use.  Use the language you see on their blog posts, LinkedIn profile, website, and professional networking sites.  Do NOT use the language you use in your office when speaking to colleagues (Send out, Job order, Req, etc.).  

When we use the language of our prospects we naturally align with them.  We indicate that we are an “us” and not a “them.”  This allows us to bypass some of the natural barriers that they erect to separate themselves from those who would influence them.

In sales terms this is called Mirroring, but if I used that Jargon…  😉



(The name of the company IS Applied Knowledge Enterprises after all!)

  1. Analyze your speech and that of your colleagues.  Identify words, catchphrases, and slang that are a part of your day-to-day speech and become aware of them.  I’m not suggesting that you stop using them.  (As mentioned above, jargon is important, it just needs to be used consciously)
  2. Take the time to listen, really LISTEN, not just to WHAT your customers, prospects, and audience say but HOW they say it.
  3. Read things that your prospects write: blog posts, comments on professional websites, their websites
  4. Incorporate their language into your sales dialogue and LISTEN for their reaction

PROTIP 1:  People often speak differently in their professional lives than they do in their personal lives.  Be mindful of where you are getting your information (personal vs. professional sites)

PROTIP 2:  The goal is this isn’t to sound EXACTLY like your prospect.  Frankly, that’s a little creepy.  The goal is to sound similar to them to set them at ease.  If you try to sound like a clone of them you will achieve the exact opposite effect!  (See: Uncanny Valley in robotics for an example of this)

As always, thank you for stopping by.  If you like what you’ve read check out some of my other posts, listen to my podcast, and sign up for the Newsletter.  I share things there that I don’t put on the site.  If you have any questions, disagree with me, or want to dig deeper then leave a comment!


Thanks again,



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