I was ‘tasked’ to do something recently.
‘Tasked’? …I took it to mean ‘asked’ only I had to do it, whatever it was. So I guess I was being told to do it then. But tasked somehow sounds sexier…
Jargon is a temptation that is hard to resist. It arrives one day in the neighbourhood, shiny and immaculate as a new car, and people have an urge to test it. They want to be proactive in this respect.
After all why say ‘talk’ when you can say ‘dialogue’? The latter makes you sound so much more profound.
But the trend for NHS jargon has been officially exposed. In 2014 NICE, the National Institute for Care and Excellence, released guidance on how to write more effectively, or put it another way, how to communicate more effectively.
I make this point because that’s what writing is – communication. Thinking about writing as communication stops me parroting out jargon. Or so I thought.
NICE compiled a list of jargon to avoid whenever possible – some of which are listed below.
Back-filling Deliver (when you mean abstract concepts such as improvements)
Dialogue Drivers (for change) Facilitate (use ‘enable’ or similar)
Going forward Impact (used as a verb) Incentivise/disincentivise Issue
Key (try ‘important’) Progress (when used as a verb)
Robust Signposting Streamline
Oh dear. Hands up. I have used some of those words…quite often. But it is a relief to know that I am one of many sinners in this regard in my NHS Trust; how often do you see the word ‘robust’ used these days in reports and the like? It has become the writer’s equivalent of salt, to be sprinkled over everything to make things more palatable. In fact I can’t remember the last time I saw a plan that wasn’t ‘robust’. Before the word ‘robust’ became a first team fixture for ‘official’ reporting, did it mean that every plan fell apart when exposed to gentle winds? I like cake. But I don’t ask for a slice of ‘robust’ cake in a cafe, yet a piece of Victoria Sponge that disintegrates on impact is no use to anyone. I think that it’s probably common sense that means you don’t have to ask for robust cake. People just know it. You don’t need to say it.
But often when I have my manager’s hat on, I can forget common sense in my efforts to sound the part, to sound suitably ‘authoritative’. So you dress up sentences like a Christmas turkey, forgetting that you should be communicating. It’s not good to forget that you are talking to real people; having imaginary conversations with an audience entirely composed of versions of yourself won’t help.
I offer up an analogy. I had a friend called Claire. She used to give me lifts to work. Claire was a pleasant, chatty person; but I used to dread the lift – when she got behind the wheel, she became a public menace. When I asked Claire about her habit of commonly using the horn as a means to tell (slower) people to get out of her way, she talked about driving as if it was a dog eat dog world where she had to bark loudest. I was baffled; when we walked to the shops to get a sandwich at lunch she didn’t push people out of the way, so why did ownership of a Fiesta XR2i (in red) turn her into a monster?
My point is that Claire projected a daft idea of driving which affected and prevented her real, thoughtful self from taking control. I think many of us do something similar in our working lives; this feeds into our communication – we allow this projection of what ‘official writing’ is to circumvent our natural impulse to communicate clearly. So I end up facilitating rather than doing, auditing rather than checking…etc.
And jargon isn’t just fancy words when plain ones will do. If we want to be truly open in the NHS we have to recognise that the public doesn’t necessarily understand the implications of words such as ‘diversity’ or ‘engagement’ – NHS insiders use such terms with distinct, internally understood set of meanings that may not be available to the person on the street. Such words in normal life have a different, set of meanings – ‘engagement’ is something that happens before marriage, and ‘diversity’ may reflect the plant life in your garden. Openness cannot happen when we load up our communication with a particular set of internal codified meanings that effectively ‘fence off’ non NHS and NHS people.
Kevin Thompson – Corporate Performance Team.
Duncan Macmillan House
Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust