By Ilya Leybovich
Here we look at the worst examples of office-speak, along with some words that deserve a place in our professional vocabulary. Not all corporate buzzwords are without their usefulness.
Everyone has encountered business jargon at one time or another. Whether hearing them from your boss, coworkers or customers, buzzwords can be a major source of irritation, obscuring rather than clarifying someone's point. There are, however, some types of business lingo that can aid in effective communication. Knowing the difference between helpful business language and the kind that should be banned is an increasingly vital skill in today's communication-driven workplace.
"When we talk about business jargon, we are generally referring to one of two things — words that are peculiar to a trade or words that are pretentious, unintelligible or gibberish," small business advisory Flying Solo explains. "And sometimes we can experience a spectacular combination of the two."
Despite its negative reputation, business jargon continues to proliferate, perhaps because those who use it don't recognize it as jargon or because they have become habituated to the quality of communication in their work environment. Either way, research shows that professionals across the board dislike office-speak.
A mid-2009 survey from staffing firm Accountemps identified the most irritating business buzzwords and phrases based on responses from 150 senior executives at major United States firms.
Here are the top 10 from the findings and their supposed meanings:
Leverage: To use something. According to the jargon dictionary from theOfficeLife.com, "A list of the worst business jargon would, of course, be incomplete without it."
Reach out: To make contact. This is "a dramatic way of saying a very mundane thing."
It is what it is: There's nothing we can do about it. As in, "The server is down today, and clients are irate. It is what it is."
Viral: Popular and spreading. As in, "Our video has gone viral."
Game changer: "A sports term describing a critical point with the potential to alter the overall outcome."
Disconnect: An inconsistency. As in, "There is a disconnect between what the consumer wants and what the product provides."
Value-add: As in, "We have to evaluate the value-add of this activity before we spend more on it." It's a "typical biz-speak reversal of 'added value."
Circle back: To return. As in, "I'm heading out of the office now, but I will circle back with you later."
Socialize: To reconcile. As in, "We need to socialize this concept with our key stakeholders."
Interface: A complicated way of saying "communicate." As in, "My job requires me to interface with all levels of the organization."
Unfortunately, these types of business jargon aren't isolated to conversation. In fact, they have a tendency to make it into work e-mail, memos and reports, reducing the general quality of business writing.
"Unfortunately, years of language dilution by lawyers, marketers, executives and HR departments have turned the powerful, descriptive sentence into an empty vessel optimized for buzzwords, jargon and vapid expressions," Inc.com explains. "Words are treated as filler — 'stuff' that takes up space on a page."
However, not all business terminology is stale and tired. A separate article from Inc.com lists some original buzzwords that might actually improve the quality of communications:
Big hairy audacious goal: The use of humor makes this more memorable than most goal-related phrases, and hyperbole provides some motivation.
Frictionless: A highly descriptive term that visualizes how business processes should run.
Knowledge worker: Emphasizes the mental contributions of certain employees rather than just their profitability.
Management by walking around: This is a humble and vivid description of good leadership.
Angel: "What better metaphor for the answer to an entrepreneur's prayers?" Inc.com asks.
Just in time: This phrase evokes both resourcefulness and efficiency in work processes.