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Learning the Language to Fit In

By Beverly Bowers July 24, 2023 Lifestyle

I recently read an article posted by Business Insider entitled, “Gen Z and millennial workers feel confused, irritated, and left out by endless ‘workplace jargon’ in the office, LinkedIn research shows.”

Key points are:

  • Almost half of Gen Z and Millennial workers say “workplace jargon” is making them feel left out. 
  • A new survey by LinkedIn found that young professionals are puzzled by lingo like “ducks in a row.” (Also “blue sky thinking” and “low hanging fruit.”)
  • Two-thirds of Gen Z and Millennials think knowing workplace jargon could help them get ahead.

“Some 60% of Gen Z and Millennials say the jargon is like a different language and as a result, almost half have made a mistake at work because they didn’t understand a phrase.” You can read the article here.

Wow! What an eye opener.

I know from experience that this is true, however, and those of us who are more experienced are not doing ourselves and our businesses any favors by conversing in language that can’t be understood by those entering the workforce. Many of us don’t even realize that what we are saying is not understood.

Do You Feel Left Out?

I must admit that I feel left out of conversations from time to time when around Gen Z and Millennials. Although I am not a fan of Instagram, I try to keep up with the latest trends and follow several “influencers.”

I am better at keeping up with business and investing trends as that is where my interest lies. I know I fall far short in the eyes of Gen Z, however. My daughter-in-law repeatedly offers to help me, so it is only my fault. If understanding the language used in a particular setting is an issue at any age, what can we do to make sure that we are inclusive? I have an example.

When I was newly divorced, I dated a man whose passion was car racing. He watched races on television every weekend and attended as many as he could in person. He was anxious for me to attend with him and enjoy the time together and was a very patient teacher.

No matter if we were at the track to see a race in person or if we watched on TV, he explained what was happening and pointed out what was important. I gradually learned what to watch for and who to watch.

For example, I knew when a car went into the pits for a tire change, refuel, and engine adjustments, that time was critical, and a minor error could cost that driver a drop of several places in the race. I asked many questions, and my race mentor was never condescending or testy with an explanation or a reply. We should all have teachers like that!

How Do You Learn the Language?

If you want to learn a new skill, what do you do? Let’s say you want to learn to play tennis or pickleball. Do you take a class? Read a book? Have a friend show you the ropes? Maybe you do all three. Slowly, you learn how to score and the difference between a lob and serve or a volley, among others.

If you want to enjoy playing with friends, you practice, practice, and practice. It is important to learn the language so you understand the game and can apply instructions.

If you want to be a musician, you pick an instrument (could be your voice) and do the same. If you want to advance, a teacher or mentor is critical and you practice, practice, practice. Playing with others is more fun for many so you learn to read music to play your part in a beautiful composition.

You discover the many genres available to pick the one that interests you. You might attend concerts or listen to YouTube or Spotify. Music has a language of its own, too, which is necessary to understand no matter what type of musician you may be.

If you chose to be an accountant, a beautician, a plumber, a lawyer, a mortician – any job or occupation – you learned its language. To be successful, you learn the language along with the skill or talent necessary to perform the task. Likewise, if you want to converse with friends no matter their age, you learn their language to be understood and to understand.

How About Investment Language?

The LinkedIn research made me think about the world of investing and its jargon. I was fortunate to have patient teachers in my first job in the world of finance. I was hired to be the trader for the trust department of a large downstate Illinois bank. The man I was replacing was moving out of state, but he stayed for a couple of weeks to teach me the ropes. (No special licenses were required for this position as all our orders were placed through brokers, and I was not giving investment advice to clients.)

What did I learn? A lot! I learned how to check the bid/ask for stock and when it might be appropriate to place a limit order. I learned the difference between corporate and municipal bonds and how to check what was a reasonable price and yield for each type of bond. I learned the difference between Treasury Bills, Notes, and Bonds and how they trade. I learned about privately owned stock and common trust funds and lots, lots more.

Research, especially stock research, was a big part of my job as well. There was no internet at that time. The trust department subscribed to many different sources of current investment insight and had a library of books to do deeper dives. I attended conferences with our larger correspondent bank in Chicago and soaked up as much information as I could. I admit I did not understand everything, but I asked questions and slowly my knowledge grew.

(Just to check – Did you understand all the investment terms I used above? See how easy it is to talk in a language that may not be understood.)

What Can You Do?

The first step to better understanding, whether it be at work, play or home, is to be aware of the terms we are using. We do not use the same words to talk with a child as we do an adult, but it is not necessary to be condescending in any case. Check for understanding and be willing to take time to explain.

Unfortunately, as an investment professional, I have attended client conferences in which explanations go over the heads of the attendees. Before long the client’s eyes become glazed and attention wanes. Sometimes I think investment professionals are our own worst enemies. It is not in anyone’s best interest to make the financial world mysterious and complex. Want a quick assessment of your basic investment knowledge? Here is a link to a little quiz I recently posted.

If you want to learn more about investing, there are also good resources. There are plenty of books on the market, including my own, How to Dress a Naked Portfolio: A Tailored Introduction to Investing for Women would help (it is equally applicable to men). It provides an explanation of the basic terms used in the world of saving and investing. It also explains how a basic investment portfolio is put together. If you have a terminology foundation, you will ask better questions.

My phone or laptop is always handy to search for terms and phrases to better understand the world and the language that is used. I read and attend seminars, many virtually, and challenge myself to keep learning and growing. Sixty and Me is a wonderful resource on many topics!

If you do not understand a term, a word, a phrase, ask questions. Yes, there is the chance that you might hit resistance but don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. I believe your willingness to ask will be rewarded.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How do you learn the language needed to fit in? Do you have any suggestions? Do you use different methods depending on the topic? In particular, do investing terms seem foreign to you?

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The Author

Beverly Bowers is a retired financial planner who has been solely responsible for her financial life over 25 years. Her passion is to make investments understandable – dispel the mystery and simplify the process. In 2021 she self-published a book, How to Dress a Naked Portfolio, a Tailored Introduction to Investing for Women. She relishes questions from all levels of investors. You may submit questions and sign up for her blogs on her website.

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