Authentic communication has always been important in business, but it seems it is needed now more than ever before. We are in a time of unprecedented change, where we are constantly asking our employees and customers to follow us into uncharted territory. What’s more, some of Australia’s largest companies such as ANZ, Telstra, nab and Australia Post are going through significant organisational changes.
We are also faced with the rise of technology, new corporate jargon phrases and acronyms entering the business vocabulary on an ongoing basis. The end result is that employees and customers feel more and more isolated when they do not readily understand the technology, let alone the words and phrases that come along with it.
Furthermore, the expectations of employees continue to evolve, with a noticeable rise in workplace disengagement. The Gallup 2017 State of the Global Workforce report showed that 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their job.
The reasons above indicate that we need to focus on authentic communication. But one of the biggest justifications for doing so is that the business world is in a battle for trust.
When it comes to leadership, if people don’t trust you, they will not follow you. If you look over your shoulder and no one is following you… guess what? You are not a leader. If you are a business and your customers don’t trust you, this will result in a loss of loyalty and sales…sometimes forever.
Over the last few years, knowing who and what to trust has become significantly harder.
Edelman, a global communications marketing firm, conduct an annual study to determine levels of trust. They have been undertaking this research for 18 years and this year has seen some of the largest drops in trust ever recorded.
Deloitte was commissioned to undertake research into the Australian financial industry by surveying over 1000 Australian consumers. They published their insights in July 2018 and they show that trust in the financial services industry has ‘taken a dive’. The report stated that:
- 32% of customers said their trust in the finance industry has deteriorated in the last 12 months
- 25% of customers do not trust the financial service industry, with banking and insurance the least trusted
- A staggering 47% of customers do not trust their own financial service provider
To show the extent of distrust in the financial services industry, 23% of those surveyed said they would consider financial services from an airline carrier such as Qantas and Virgin. This insight shows how far the finance industry has fallen in the eyes of its customers. We have lost so much faith in the financial services industry that we are considering having our needs met by airline carriers.
So why is trust important?
It’s interesting to refer back to the Edelman report and their explanation of why they study trust. They believe that in modern societies we delegate important aspects of our lives to major institutions. In order for us to feel safe when we delegate important aspects of our lives to others, ‘we need to trust them to act with integrity and with our best interests in mind.’
Consequently, when our level of trust diminishes in relation to these institutions, we no longer feel safe. They also suggest that ‘trust is a forward looking metric’ and is an indicator of whether people will find you credible in the future. Unlike reputation which is based on previous behaviour.
For these reasons trust becomes a critical asset that institutions, companies and individuals need to fight for.
So how do companies maintain and build trust? They should focus on authentic communication. This requires simple language that uses real words and avoids hiding behind corporate jargon.
The Oxford Dictionary defines jargon as, ‘Special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand’.
Considering the prevalence for corporate speak, it is quite ironic that communication forms a major part of a leader’s role. Especially when the dictionary definition states that jargon makes it difficult for others to understand. Unless of course it is deliberate and they don’t want people to understand what they are saying.
Unfortunately, this can be a deliberate strategy. For example, politicians use jargon to avoid answering questions and to be deliberately vague. It helps them to spend time talking without saying anything at all.
Wikipedia describes jargon as the ‘type of language that is used in a particular context and may not be well understood outside that context’. So, unless everyone around the table fully understands the jargon or acronym, which is rarely the case, we are disconnecting and isolating people. Regardless of whether it is intentional or not.
Research conducted in 2011 at New York University, concluded that there was a lower level of trust when vague words were being used as opposed to a higher level with more concrete words. Therefore, the more you use jargon, the more people distrust you.
By default, too many people use jargon to sound more credible, but this is at the expense of being trusted. We learn from past experience that people don’t use ‘real’ words when they have something to hide or they are not being completely authentic.
Trust is critical in business. Your customers need to trust you, especially in a time of increased choice and competition. Furthermore, your employees need to trust you as you lead them through unprecedented change.
If rebuilding or maintaining trust is important to you as a company or as an individual leader, then think about how you can be more authentic in your communication. Focus on using ‘real’ words that people understand and connect with. When building trust, it’s critical to avoid using unnecessary jargon that that disconnects and isolates people.
Gabrielle Dolan is a best-selling author and international speaker on business storytelling and authentic leadership. She is also the founder of Jargon Free Fridays. Her latest book, Real Communication: How to be you and lead true, hits books stores around the globe on 1 May. If you want to be one of the first to receive it, come to IABC Victoria’s upcoming event and get your free copy signed by Gabrielle herself. Follow this link to find out more about Gabrielle.