Communication involves the sending and receiving of a message, yet it is hardly ever that simple. Problems can arise if the message is not understood, its meaning is distorted, or even worse, it leads to mistrust.
These problems are not new. Mistrust is especially common in certain professions, like the legal and financial sectors. While the industries’ jargon unites people from the same profession, it also distances them from the rest of the world. Clear and simple language is the key to avoiding this separation, but what does clear language even mean?
“Make sure the message is structured in an orderly manner
Basically, clear language refers to providing needed information when it is useful for the recipient of the message. While writing, think about how the recipient will perceive the message and the questions they would ask. Questions that can relate to the recipient’s perspective in terms of their personal context, social context, and their communication context – the way they communicate. All three are important and essential to keep in mind.
Second, make sure the message is structured in an orderly manner. Create a plan to explain everything that is important in a clear and organized manner, depending on the purpose of the message. Follow the five question rule, being sure to answer each of the who? what? when? where? and why? questions in your message.
Third, use direct and simple sentences when writing. This is as simple as following the subject, verb, and complement rule. Avoid subordinate phrases and complex periphrasis, which can almost always be replaced with simpler phrases. This may all seem very obvious, but in practice, we don’t usually follow this advice.
Avoiding technical terms is also fundamental to writing and communicating effectively. Replace technical terms with simpler ones whenever possible. And if the technical term is necessary, immediately clarify its meaning.
These guidelines are especially relevant to the financial sector, where the messages primarily consist of communicating trust.
This is all much more important than it may seem at first glance because if there are several words or expressions the recipient does not understand, they will probably decide to interrupt the communication. In other words, they’ll disconnect.
In fact, regulations are giving more and more protection to customers and demanding that financial institutions be more transparent in the way they communicate – proof of the importance of clear language in the financial world. And with good reason. We are usually talking about financial products – a mortgage, pension plan, investment fund, life insurance policy – that could have major consequences on a person or family.
When purchasing a financial product or service, it’s important to make the decision with all the relevant information available, understanding every word and being fully aware of what is being purchased. This transparency can also be achieved by the way messages are organized and expressed.
At BBVA, we have spent the last several years applying our commitment to be a Transparent, Clear and Responsible bank. A commitment that we summarize in three letters: TCR. What does this mean? Basically, three things. First, we give our customers all relevant information on all our products and services, communicating both the advantages and costs. Two, we organize the information in a logical manner, written in plain language. And three, we look after our customers medium and long term interests.
At BBVA, we have spent the last several years applying our commitment to be a Transparent, Clear and Responsible bank
As a result, we have product information sheets and contracts that follow these principles. We are also using clear language in the information our telemarketing centers offer. And, of course, in our online operations, where we apply our TCR commitment in both the product information displays and in the contract procedures.
These information sheets are the result of teamwork across many departments. They represents a profound change in our corporate culture – a new era whose emblem is extreme transparency.
Clear language is more than a tool to help people understand each other. Today, it’s the key to maintaining a relationship with customers built on trust.