From “working synergistically” to “reinventing the wheel” to “thinking outside the box,” the workplace is humming with corporate buzzwords and jargon. According to a 2017 survey by American Express Open Forum, 64 percent of Americans use jargon multiple times per week. It’s not only irritating, it also leads to confusion–88 percent of Americans pretend to understand office jargon when they don’t know what it means.
Last year, Summit Hosting, a cloud hosting firm, conducted a study that revealed the most irksome and overused buzzwords and phrases spouted by employees. As I browsed the list, I cringed at several of the words and phrases identified. I also realized that some of them naturally roll off my own tongue.
1. Bandwidth (as in “I don’t have the bandwidth”)
Perhaps you should visit your nearest AT&T store and upgrade your plan? If you can’t do something because you’re too busy, why not be more direct and say “I’m busy”? You’ll save three words–and avoid a couple of flinches from your co-workers.
2. Run it up the flagpole (as in “Let me run it up the flagpole”)
This cringe-worthy phrase is used as a “catch-all” for testing an idea. Avoid confusion and clarify how you intend to move forward: “Let me test this using a focus group” or “Let me present this idea to our CFO.” Don’t leave your audience guessing.
3. Table this discussion (as in “Let’s table this discussion”)
This phrase is commonly used as a polite way to say “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Let’s face it, tabled discussions are rarely followed up on. If you don’t intend to follow up, avoid confusion and be frank with your audience.
4. A lot on my plate (as in “I have a lot on my plate”)
Save this phrase for when you’re dining at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Simply say “I’m too busy,” or, better yet, specify what is occupying your time.
5. Ducks in a row (as in “Get your ducks in a row”)
If only getting our affairs in order was as simple as a mother duck getting her offspring to follow her in an orderly line. While the workplace is filled with quacks, we’re not waterfowl. Why not say “Get your priorities straight” instead?
Certainly not constrained to the workplace, “LOL” is used as a needless filler, a response to something that isn’t really funny. If something is funny enough to warrant real laughter, pay due respect and let out an old-fashioned chuckle.
7. Elephant in the room (as in “Let’s discuss the elephant in the room”)
I dislike this phrase for many reasons, especially because it gives elephants a bad rep. Elephants are one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet. Be direct with your words, leave the elephants out of the room, and declare “Let’s discuss XYZ.”
8. Ping me
This is a flippant phrase that is rife with vagueness. Don’t leave room for ambiguity or confusion. Specify whether you expect to be reached via phone, email, text, etc.
I’ve always found this term (which is short for “too long; didn’t read”) self-deprecating. Don’t belittle or undervalue your work. Opt for “Summary” instead. For the two extra characters, it’s worth it.
10. Growth hacking/Growth hacker (as in “I’m a growth hacker”)
Despite the ubiquity of this phrase in the workplace, most of us are hard-pressed to define it. Every sane individual has both eyes on growth opportunities. Are you engaging in agile product development, or are you building out a content marketing powerhouse? Be direct.
It’s tempting to use corporate buzzwords and phrases. Studies show that we tend to sprinkle them into our conversations just to make it seem like we know what we’re talking about. Unfortunately, this leads to a culture of all talk and no action. We mask the real meaning of our words. As Jennifer Chatman, a management professor at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, has explained, “People use [corporate jargon] as a substitute for thinking hard and clearly about their goals and the direction that they want to give others.”
Summit Hosting’s study revealed that 16 percent of Americans believe that office jargon can harm their careers. Do yourself and your colleagues a favor, avoid using junk jargon at work. Stop using jargon as a safety net. Figure out what you want to say and say it.
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