Gobbledegook from professionals confuses Brits out of an estimated £2.9 billion a year

1st July 2013

One in three British people (33%) don’t understand the professional jargon spoken to them.

Research by Co-op Legal Services has found that Brits are wasting hundreds of pounds every year because they struggle to understand the jargon spoken to them by a range of professions and service providers.

Of those people who had experienced the use of jargon, one in three (33%) said they felt out of control or pressured into agreeing to something because of the use of industry specific jargon.

The research looked at a variety of service providers including electricians, accountants, estate agents and builders amongst others. Where people encountered jargon, a shocking 33% (one-in-three) admitted they didn’t understand the industry-specific language used. And one-in-five people (20%) claimed that not understanding the language meant they had incurred additional costs as a result, totalling an average of £1500 per person every five years.

Worryingly, a substantial number were happy to go along with what the professional advised without fully understanding them. Over one-in-ten (14%) people who didn’t understand what was being said to them still said they were happy to proceed because the professional had advised them to, which leapt to one fifth (20%) of people aged 18-24.

There is also a clear difference between the genders when it comes to costs incurred. 25% of men and 16% of women say that the use of confusing jargon resulted in more costs to them. The additional costs only amounted to an average of £1200 for men, however, compared to £1700 for women.

Jargon fuelled conversations are having a particular impact on younger generations too, with associated cost implications. Of those questioned, over one-in-ten (14%) people felt inferior and talked down to when jargon was used. A further 14% felt pressured to agree to something they didn’t understand, doubling to over one quarter (28%) of people aged 18-24.

Overall, 16% of people felt uncertain and out of control of the situation, which rises to almost one third (30%) of people aged 18-24. However, it seems that the older you get, the more likely you are to summon up the courage to ask for clarity. One third (33%) of people aged 55-64 asked the professional or service provider to explain everything in straightforward, everyday language, compared to less than one quarter (23%) of people aged 25-34.

The research showed the top 3 professions and service providers who use the most jargon when speaking to customers were actuaries, car mechanics or salespeople and surveyors.

The Director of Policy at Co-op Legal Services said,

“We all know that when someone speaks to you in language you struggle to understand it can be difficult and at times an unnerving experience. It’s particularly hard when you are purchasing a product or service that you’re not familiar with, and are relying on someone to explain your options and help identify what is best for you. Indeed, our research revealed that only 10% of people found it “reassuring” when a professional spoke to them using jargon. It shows we all have a responsibility to cut down on the jargon we speak."

“At Co-op Legal Services, we’re doing everything we can to help people make informed and empowered choices by using language and terminology they understand. Professional services like the legal profession do have an element of jargon, but it is possible to explain terms in everyday English that people understand. We work hard to ensure that people understand exactly what we are doing to help them reach the best outcome for them and their families.”

Dr Victoria Senior, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Surrey, said,

“This survey demonstrates both the financial and personal costs of poor communication from service providers and professionals. Struggling to understand important information that affects your day-to-day life can lead to anxiety, which can in turn lead to forgetting and misunderstanding even more of what is being said. The survey shows that this can result in people making decisions that they later regret, and even incurring large financial costs."

“Poor communication by professionals can also have more subtle, but equally negative, psychological effects. It is important for people to feel in control of their decisions, but the research shows that people’s self-esteem takes a hit when they are spoken to in jargon they don’t understand. The good news is that older people seem more confident in asking for clarification, but younger people also need this confidence as they make important life decisions. A crucial element of being a competent professional is to communicate technical information to the general public in a way that helps them to make positive decisions.”

Additional Information:

  1. Interviews are available on request.
  2. Consumer omnibus survey conducted by Vision Critical. Fieldwork took place from 7-10 June 2013. Sample size was 2004 adults in the UK, who were questioned about a subset of 15 professions. The survey was carried out online.


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