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Why you should ditch the corporate buzzwords to communicate more effectively

You’ve probably rolled your eyes at a self-proclaimed “disruptor”, or felt your heart sink on hearing “finding synergy” for the third time in a meeting.

Corporate jargon is everywhere, and if we’re being honest, we all hate it. The internet is awash with memes and opinion pieces that poke fun at “the worst corporate buzzwords”. Vague, overused or just downright weird, these terms have been referred to as “the language you use when you aren’t really doing anything” and “a substitute for thinking hard”.

But if bizspeak is so widely disliked, why is it still so commonly used in the workplace?

The case for jargon

Every industry has its own lingo. In your own office you might use names and expressions that don’t apply anywhere else. These context-specific words and phrases can be useful for describing what people see in their particular line of work. In highly specialised fields like medicine, science and law, for example, technical terminology might actually be the most accurate way of conveying complex information, so using it among colleagues who are in the know is efficient and unproblematic.

So the issue is not jargon itself, but it’s misuse and abuse. Problems arise when industry terms with specific meanings morph into nebulous nonsense, used for appearances rather than communication.

Unless, you’re absolutely certain that every single person you’re talking to will understand a term, don’t use it. Here’s why.

It’s unclear – the cardinal sin

The critical aim of communication is to be understood. If your message is unclear, it has failed. It’s that simple.

But does anyone really know what “harvesting efficiencies” means? Unless you work on a farm, wouldn’t it make more sense to say “improve” or “increase” instead?

So many phrases bandied about workplaces could and should be replaced by more simple and direct language. Why ask someone if they have the “bandwidth” to help with a task when what you mean is, “Do you have time?” Why talk about “action items” instead of simply stating what needs to be done?

A lot of corporate-speak is clichéd fluff that does nothing for your message other than making it frustratingly murky. Take “low-hanging fruit”, which refers to a simple project that’s expected to get good returns, or “trim the fat”, which means subtracting unnecessary details or resources. To someone who isn’t familiar with corporate-speak, these phrases can sound outlandish. To colleagues, they’re too generic to be useful.

Positive results depend on effective, clear and concise communication, so if you really want to “move the needle” – get meaningful results – ditch the corporate mumbo jumbo and say what you mean!

It damages relationships

A lot of corporate buzzwords come across as grandiose. Consider “blue-sky thinking” for “creativity”, or “synergise” instead of “collaborate”. Using jargon frequently – especially around those outside of your professional circle – can create a disconnect and leave a poor impression.

Communication is about connection, and you won’t connect if people think you’re deliberately speaking in a complicated way.

In some cases, people use corporate doublespeak intentionally to hide what they mean, like saying “headcount restructuring” or “right-sizing” rather than “layoffs”.

Corporate buzzwords can sound pretentious and silly. Or more damaging still, they can come across as disingenuous.

It alienates people and causes misunderstandings

Imagine walking into a room on your first day in a new role and being bombarded with a string of buzzwords. You sink a little lower in your seat as you struggle to follow much of what’s being said.

Are you likely to contribute productively to that meeting? Are you likely to leave feeling motivated and inspired? Are you likely to feel like you’ve found the place you belong? No.

It’s possible you might also feel uncomfortable asking for clarification. So on top of being a waste of time, corporate jargon can lead to misunderstandings and unfavourable business outcomes.

The message is clear. As always, Plain English is the most effective way to communicate. It’s concise, engaging and easily understood by a wide audience. And that’s what it’s all about…