In short, the problem with corporate buzzwords is they devalue meaning and often leave workers wondering, “What the heck are you talking about?”
When I say buzzwords, I am talking about the popular words or phrases people say at work. Things like:
In and of themselves, we have a understanding about what these words mean and how to use them. But, when these words show up at work, they all of a sudden become the gate keepers of the” in crowd”. If you are in the “in crowd” you know these words, use these words, and can “Articulate the oportunities to reduce the impact of disconnect and champion teamwork, snyergy, and word flow.”
If you aren’t well versed in “buzzword-ology”, you can feel left out, talked over, and just plain confused.
In an article called Using These Buzzwords Make You Look Bad, the author interviewed a culture consultant who regularly mocks the most popular business buzzwords. Steele Champion, yes that is his real name, writes TalkLikeTheBoss.com a blog that serves to demystify the language of corporate culture and reveal what’s really behind the meanings.
One buzzword Champion challenges is the word, “opportunity”. In our regular lives, opportunity is a great thing. We seek out opportunities because they excite us and encourage us. Somewhere in corporate culture, someone decided to use the positive feelings associated with opportunities and overlay them on improvement.
At work, “opportunity” has become the code word for improvement. Example: “Your recent performance pointed out the opportunity you have for development.”
The Problem with Buzzwords
1. They are unclear
The meaning of the word is unclear. When communication is unclear, people don’t know what to expect. I remember a scene from the TV show Friends. Ross, Rachel and Chandler were trying to get a couch up the stairs. Ross took the job of shouting out words, like “pivot”, as a way make the task easier. The hilarity of the scene was not only his pronunciation of the word, but also the way he assumed that saying it over and over would help get the couch up the stairs.
Buzzwords are like this scene. You can say them over and over, but unless the meaning is clear, you will be wasting time, resources, and frustrating everyone around you.
2. They seperate instead of unite.
Where buzwords once served as a way to unite, they have morphed into a “who’s in” and “who’s out” indicator. Champion explains.
I’d say the primary reason business buzzwords occur is to convey connection. It’s similar to an inside joke where a few individuals get the joke, while outsiders do not. If you have ever been one of the people in on the joke, think about the immediate connection you felt to those who also understood it.
Likewise, I feel that most business buzzwords are used to silently say, “Hey, I’m part of the family because I know exactly what CTQ, BPL, QBR, and SPP mean.” Workers that don’t understand this ridiculous language of business buzzwords run the risk of being labeled an outsider. It’s conformity at its finest.
The issue is that the learning curve for buzzwords varies and until you actually learn them, you are an outsider in your own company, on your team, and at your desk.
3. They promote distrust.
Saying there will be a “200 headcount impact” supposedly sounds nicer than “200 people are going to be fired”. As a communication coach, I am all for saying things that “sound” good, but not at the expense of meaning. If the meaning is ambiguous, vague, unclear, or just confusing, people will wonder if you are purposely trying to mislead them.
Leaders who can’t be trusted to be honest are leaders who will soon have no followers. Be honest in your communication.
Simple language is powerful. In fact, your ability to be clear and simple actually shows your genius. You can read how I learned that lesson here.
What buzzwords do you hear a lot?
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