Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 32 seconds

Two things are true about all of us in the business world: (1) We all use business buzzwords. (2) We all say how much we hate business buzzwords. So let's add: (3) We are hypocrites. We tout the importance of simple communication, but we find that making a hard stop to utilize value-added, impactful language to leverage deliverables among our audiences often demands a powerful paradigm shift.

Oops, did I just say that? Yep. Turns out, there's no shortage of irritating buzzwords. Accountemps recently surveyed more than 600 HR managers to reveal the top 20 most annoying buzzwords and phrases in the workplace. Here are a few:

• "Out of pocket"
• "Dynamic"
• "Pick your brain"
• "Crunch time"
• "Value-added"
• "Leverage"
• "Circle back"

The continued use of office jargon is on the one hand understandable. If everyone around you is spewing the slang, it's easy for you to fall into the same pattern. However, such terms aren't just loopy aphorisms; they can be detrimental to your firm. Here's why business can do without business-speak.

Clarity is still king when communicating in the workplace. Jargon tends to confuse, not clarify. It's generally best to avoid the tired clichés and trendy buzzwords in favor of clear, straightforward language.

Why are they confusing? Buzzwords are so generic, they are often not descriptive of the current, unique situation. Add to that the fact that not everyone really understands what every buzzword means. For instance: "Let's circle back to the client about the value-add of the sponsorship." Granted, the meaning here is probably you. Can you be absolutely sure, not just probably sure (which itself makes no sense), that others similarly understand?

Sure, your colleague two doors down may know what you're talking about, but accounting professionals don't work in isolation. What might seem idiomatic to you may come off idiotic to businesspeople in other departments or cultures.

As a result, when you load a speech or presentation with business buzzwords, you risk alienating your audience. When people don't understand these words, they feel frustrated and left out. They start to ignore you. And so, the reputation you're trying to build with others can crumble under the weight of too much gibberish.

What's worse than not understanding is misunderstanding. One misinterpreted buzzword can leave the wrong impression with your audience. Consequently, you're better off sticking to more widely understood language, particularly when dealing with external stakeholders.

Trust and Integrity
Something else happens when people don't understand you: They don't trust you. They think that you're using jargon to hide something. A while back, researchers at New York University found that people are likelier to believe a speaker is lying when the person uses abstract rather than concrete language.

Nonetheless, it can be tempting to fall into the trap of thinking you need to use pretentious business buzzwords to describe your work. "Can we discuss action points necessary to yield deliverables?" How about just asking to talk about steps to produce results? "I'm engaging in 360-degree thinking about a potential investment." No, you're just thinking. As for the "work product" over which you've been slaving, it's called a project. And consistently using clichéd catchphrases like "thinking outside of the box" pegs you as anything but creative.

By using jargon, people are often just trying to validate their jobs. After all, if you can describe an idea or a task with complicated language, then it must be complicated to do. But don't let any feelings of inferiority guide your use of language. If anything, an inability to plainly explain something may imply that you don't really understand it. And so, smart-sounding words don't highlight your intelligence so much as call it into question. They may even cast aspersions on your overall competency because they can give the impression that you're aiming to inflate the difficulty or significance of duties or accomplishments. Let the magnitude and quality of your work speak for itself. You don't need to twist your tongue to perform linguistic acrobatics.

Two final "takeaways": (1) Speak up against workplace jargon. If you don't understand something, say something. (2) Limit your use of "takeaways."

Bill Driscoll
Bill Driscoll is New England district president of Accountemps, the world's first and largest specialized staffing service for temporary accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals.
Last modified on Tuesday, 07 October 2014
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