Several weeks ago while checking out the latest discussions at Wayne Senville’s Planning Commissioners Journal, my eye was drawn to the headline: “Plannerisms we can do without!”
Why is it, I’ve wondered, that planners and a myriad of other professionals rely on their own ingrown jargon to communicate with the rest of the world?
And, professional jargon aside, have you ever noticed that the more formal or professional the situation, the less direct the language? It’s almost that simple.
It is a power play, whether conscious or unconscious—a way to imply, “We have the data and the understanding, therefore we have the best answers. If you don’t understand, that’s OK, because we do.” It’s one reason residents so often shut down or become defensive or frustrated during typical “public” meetings and hearings, just the times when understanding and listening are so important.
Here at the Foundation we consciously try to stick with plain English, no matter the topic or the situation, but we still fall into jargon pits. Our most successful path toward the use of direct, clear language is by encouraging neighbors in our Heart & Soul Community Planning towns to tell each other personal stories. Not speeches. Not position statements. Not replies to loaded questions. But stories about individuals’ experiences and memories from living in a place they care about. That’s when buzzwords like “sustainability” and “robust” and “incentivize” and “silo” or, worse, “siloed” go unspoken. It’s when square feet and building footprints and setbacks and zones go unmentioned. And it’s when people sit up toward the edge of their chairs and listen. And then stand up to share their own stories.
Speaking in plain English about what matters might help residents and planners alike gain a clearer understanding of issues and solutions. And I bet it would encourage more folks to pitch in and help make their towns better places to live (or, jargonese, “engage in robust public participation to tear down silos and create sustainable communities!”).
Let us know some “plannerisms” or other “isms” you’d like to banish. And don’t forget to offer a simpler, clearer way of saying the same thing.