19 July 2017

The Problem With Your Value-Add

If you are looking to expand overseas, or if you are already practising business with people from cultures outside of the so-called ‘western’ English-speaking sphere – the language that you are using on an everyday basis may be impacting your productivity.

The business world in the UK and the US is largely dominated by the use of buzzwords and corporate jargon. From the day-to-day ‘chit chat’ of the workplace to the language used in meetings, presentations and sales pitches, business jargon is an important and prominent part of the corporate landscape.

Yet, while terms like ‘close of play’, ‘touch base offline’, ‘blue-sky thinking’ and ‘value-add’ might be commonplace in the western workplace, they might not make sense to professionals in other parts of the world and may impact the effectiveness of communication. As such, if companies are expanding overseas or looking to develop their international business, they need to make sure that employees are speaking a language their global clients can understand. As well as taking a relevant language course to improve their skills, this means cutting out the jargon.

Jargon may confuse – which means you lose business

Despite the popularity of business jargon in some circles, it can make professionals feel confused and alienated – almost as if, because they are not clued up on the ‘lingo’, they cannot take part in the discussion in the same way.

This is the case even when there is no language barrier to consider, so imagine the difficulty for second-language learners!

Using excessive amounts of jargon could end up leaving your international clients baffled and frustrated. A much better way to impress them is for you to take business language lessons so that you can converse with them in their first language – perhaps even learn their jargon to impress them further and make them feel even more comfortable with you.

Here are just some examples of jargon that does not translate easily into foreign languages:

  • Close of play: The word ‘play’ is not often used in this context in other languages. Just like in English, it is associated with fun, games and leisure time. When organising deadlines with international clients, keep things simple with ‘the end of the day’.
  • Touch base offline: The inclusion of internet terminology in everyday speech can be truly confusing for clients from other countries. It would be easier to say ‘meet up in private/person’.
  • Blue-sky thinking: While this term works perfectly in English, its meaning may get lost in translation for international clients or employees. Instead, talk more generally about creative ideas that are not restricted by existing thoughts or realities.
  • Value add: There are many words that could be used to simplify this bit of jargon. Rather than talking about ‘a value add’ as a noun, which international professionals may not be familiar with, perhaps try ‘a benefit’ or ‘a contribution’ or even ‘a valuable service/idea’.
  • Bottom line: Financial aspects of business are complex enough, without adding a jargon barrier. The term ‘bottom line’ may be a convenient shortcut for native English speakers, but it is best to be thorough and clear when working internationally, talking instead about the ‘net earnings’ or the ‘final result’.
  • Thought shower or Brain storm: For non-native English professionals, using the word ‘shower’ or ‘storm’ to describe the process of developing ideas might be confusing. It would be better to say it like it is: an ‘idea-development session’ or similar.

Some basic business slang may be ok

Now, not all jargon is inaccessible to non-native English professionals. Those that have taken a business English course will probably have learnt basic corporate slang and abbreviations.

They may know, for example, that ‘FYI’ is ‘for your information’, that ‘TBC’ stands for ‘to be confirmed’, and that ‘WoW’/‘MoM’/‘YoY’ means ‘week on week’/‘month on month’/‘year on year’. They would likely also be familiar with common business terms, such as ‘ROI’ (‘return on investment’) and ‘KPI’ (‘key performance indicator’).

Nevertheless, it is advisable to follow your international clients’ lead when it comes to the language you use during meetings or conversations, rather than just assuming they understand what you are saying.

International business jargon – maybe you should learn some too!

The English language is not the only place you can find examples of business jargon, and it may be worth learning some of the basic slang in other languages if you want to communicate effectively. In France, for example, professionals might say ‘donner sa langue au chat’ (literally, ‘to give one’s tongue to the cat’), which is the equivalent of ‘throwing the towel in’.

The French also have another saying – ‘arriver comme un cheveu sur la soupe’ (‘to come in like a hair in the soup’) – which means to enter a situation at the worst possible time, with uncomfortable consequences.

In Russia, a common bit of business jargon is ‘volkov boyatsya – v lec ne khodit’ (‘if you’re afraid of the wolves, don’t go into the forest’), which is similar to the western saying ‘if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen’.

Whatever language you’re conversing in, jargon can be lost in translation if used during international business communications, so, usually, it is often best to avoid using it – especially if you don’t want to end up with your foot in your mouth!

To find out more about common examples of business jargon, or investing in English for professionals or another corporate language course, contact us at Simon & Simon today.

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