Why We Hate Legal & Corporate Documents & How We Can Improve Them

Filed Under (Life Coaching & NLP) on 14-04-2010

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Simply because they’re confusing. And why are they confusing?  Because they’re vague.  And they’re vague because of the language used in them. 

At times we think in words and concepts about the world [the dissociated (objective) perspective] rather than engage in direct interaction with the world around us [the associated (subjective) perspective].  To do this we use language that will represent our thoughts and ideas and refer to our sensory input.  If the language we use is nonspecific and/or nonsensory, it is called digital language.

Digital language has at least three groups:

  • jargon
  • nominalizations
  • euphemisms and obfuscations


Each group, society, and culture develops its specific language patterns and shorthand language = jargon.  The function of jargon is:

  1. to allow easy communication of shared concepts and ideas
  2. to build group cohesion and rapport [through language matching]
  3. to give an indication of who is in the group and who is an outsider

As you learn about any subject you’ll gradually become familir with the terminology and jargon associated with it.  The very name Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a perfect example of jargon of the field of NLP.  And yes, NLP is the perfect example of another thing we do with jargon: three-letter abbreviations.  We create TLAs as shortcuts for cumbersome word formations.


…are the next group of digital language.   Nominalizations are nouns.  A dynamic process happening over time has been transformed into a “thing” and become static.   For example:

  1. to understand [verb] – understanding [noun]
  2. to relate [verb] – relationship [noun]
  3. to behave [verb] – behavior [noun]
  4. to communicate [verb] – communication [noun]
  5. to resolve [verb] – resolution [noun]

Practical example:

You may have concerns about your communication as there is some confusion about what precise manifestations of your behavior produce difficulties in your relationship.  The coming together of two personalities is often the cause of disagreements, especially if there’s little understanding of the concept of rapport.  Although you have a willingness to create  true mutuality at the level of personal openness, the actuality is not your preference.  So in the interests of greater awareness the development of your abilities in the comprehension of linguistic structures will give you an increase in satisfaction in this area.

Sounds corporately familiar?  Wait for the next group!

Euphemisms and Obfuscations

There is a common tendency to speak of unpleasant or embarrassing things in euphemisms.  A euphemism loses its softening qualities over time and then takes on the original potency of what was being avoided [or obfuscated].  For example, the word ‘redundant’ is now common.  Originally a euphemism it has now taken on the full impact and therefore other word formations are needed to soften the blow.

Why have I gone into the detail of this?  To get back to the point of this article.   To show you what many legal, financial, and other corporate documents are full of.  Besides, they are written in an obscure way using many arcane words and archaic sentence structures.  Attempts to cover every possibility [and the corporate ass] often lead to a mass of words which confuses the reader.  And the fact that these documents are tremendously impersonal is another “fantastic” byproduct of digital language.

What can we do to improve written corporate communication?

  • Use more sensory specific language.
  • Cut back on jargon.  You, the writer, know what your jargon describes.  But your reader may not!
  • Reduce using abbreviations.  They exude impersonal aura.
  • Use words that are short, sharp, and to the point instead of long polysyllabic ones of Latinate base.
  • Use verbs rather than nouns where describing a process.  Talk about how you can relate in future rather than about an ongoing relationship.
  • Use active sentence constructions.  Say we have observed that… rather than it has been observed that…

The obvious benefits are that people will be clearer on what they read.  And as a positive byproduct once people are clearer on matters, there’re no misunderstandings, and corporate ass-covering will not need to be an [expensive] issue.

Contact me for more NLP help on improving legal and corporate literature. I also work as a proofreader!

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