Blah, blah, blah and other P2P jargon

Have you ever seen babies talking to each other? Between 12 and 18 months old perhaps, they’re familiar with the concept of talking and they try to copy grown-ups by making noises that they think are words. If you get two or more of them in a room together they can happily converse with each other  – even telling each other jokes that they both laugh at – but they’re not actually saying anything.

Welcome to the world of Purchase to Pay.

Site LogoI sometimes think of baby talk when I’m in meetings with finance people. I hear accounting jargon used and abused by a mixture of people, some of whom know exactly what they’re saying but enjoy confusing everyone else with technical language. Then there are others who know all of the words but don’t really have a grasp of what they mean.

You can try this for yourself. Get five pieces of paper and write an accounting term on each of them. Try “accrual”, “sub-ledger”, “journal”, “credit” and “debit”. Now, throw those pieces of paper in the air then string a sentence together with these words in the order they land. Whatever you come up with, I bet I’ve heard that sentence used in the last week.

This isn’t just meant as a joke. This behavior really does go on in many parts of business but I see it most often amongst finance teams. There really are people that think it’s OK to blind their audience with technical language in the mistaken belief that it makes them look important. And there are people afraid to admit that they don’t really understand the words. It’s amazing to witness. I’ve seen a whole team of people discussing a particular accounting approach. I’ve not understood a word they’re saying and I’m fairly sure that they don’t understand either but none of them will admit it. And even more amazing, they reach agreement and get things done. It’s like babies laughing at jokes formed from a string of made-up words.

I shouldn’t mock. I’ve been that man. I’ve talked about “disintermediation in the financial supply chain” when what I mean is “cutting out the middleman to get better value for money”. And this is the point. We should only use words we actually understand but just as important, we should only use language that our audience understands. This doesn’t mean dumbing down. It means keeping it simple. And that way, we’ll get more done, more quickly.

Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin

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