BAN THE BUZZWORDS Busi­ness jar­gon of­ten mean­ing­less

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Money - By Wanda Thi­bodeaux |

f you want peo­ple to feel con­nected to and able to re­late to you, you have to use lan­guage they un­der­stand and use them­selves. That’s Com­mu­ni­ca­tion 101.

Still, some­times we err in the wrong di­rec­tion as ev­ery­body starts us­ing the same buzzwords or buz­zphrases un­til the room feels like a party where all the women keep walk­ing in wear­ing the same dress.

This year, there’s an over­whelm­ing win­ner in the most hated busi­ness buzz­word con­test.

A new re­port from cloud-based en­ter­prise man­age­ment com­pany Work­front re­vealed the top nine buzzwords and buz­zphrases most of us would like to bury in a land­fill. The phrase “think out­side the box” spurred the most loathing. About 47 per­cent of sur­vey re­spon­dents stated this was the most overused phrase, with “syn­ergy” and “band­width” ty­ing for sec­ond place with 18 per­cent.

If most buzzwords stink, why do we keep com­ing back to them?

An­dre Spicer, an au­thor and pro­fes­sor of or­ga­ni­za­tional be­hav­ior at Cass Busi­ness School at the City Univer­sity of Lon­don, says the use of buzzwords serves so­cial pur­poses.

“Jar­gon is of­ten used for what econ­o­mists call ‘sig­nal­ing’ in the work­place. Ex­pen­sive pack­ag­ing for prod­ucts sends a sig­nal that what is in­side is high qual­ity . ... Us­ing buzzwords can make you look like you are an ex­pert in an area you are not. It is eas­ier to copy the lan­guage than to un­der­stand the deep knowl­edge be­hind it. Also, we want to ap­pear as if we are up to date. By us­ing the lat­est buzzwords, we (show) that we are keep­ing up, even though our prac­tices may not have changed. They can also sig­nal you are part of the tribe. The prob­lem is that gen­eral busi­ness jar­gon of­ten cov­ers up a lack of un­der­ly­ing knowl­edge about a par­tic­u­lar is­sue.”

So then the ques­tion be­comes,

how can you wig­gle into the group and sound half­way com­pe­tent and in­formed with­out div­ing into a pit of cliche? Spicer of­fers four tips:

1. Get spe­cific

In­stead of us­ing gen­eral phrases like “think out­side the box,” try to spec­ify what kind of cre­ative think­ing or how that might ac­tu­ally hap­pen.

For in­stance, you could en­cour­age peo­ple to in­tro­duce new el­e­ments into think­ing by say­ing, “Let’s come up with an idea that adds one new el­e­ment we have not heard of yet.” Or you could en­cour­age peo­ple to be cre­ative by con­strain­ing them.

You might say, “Let’s come up with a so­lu­tion which does x, y and z us­ing the th­ese five re­sources.”

2. Ask “What does that mean?”

When some­one tells you that we need “syn­ergy,” ask him to de­scribe in ev­ery­day lan­guage what he specif­i­cally means in this con­text.

This will help to make the prob­lem much more tractable, ev­ery­one will un­der­stand what the speaker is talk­ing about and the speaker will be less likely to reach for gen­eral ideas.

If you want to be par­tic­u­larly bru­tal, you can do a grand­mother test: Would your grand­mother un­der­stand what you are talk­ing about?

3. Ask for the ev­i­dence

When some­one starts talk­ing about the im­por­tance of cre­at­ing band­width, ask what ev­i­dence she has that this is im­por­tant.

This, hope­fully, will stop peo­ple and get them to think about whether they are us­ing buzzy words sim­ply for the sake of them. Be­ing spe­cific and ex­plain­ing the real is­sue is what’s im­por­tant.

4. Seek the logic

If some­one talks about “run­ning it up the flag­pole,” then you could ask “why?” Get­ting peo­ple to con­sider pre­cisely the logic of how some­thing would work of­ten gets them to make bet­ter and more thor­ough de­ci­sions, as well as to be a bit less cer­tain in their own knowl­edge and ex­per­tise (par­tic­u­larly in ar­eas where they are not ex­perts).

For the record, there’s noth­ing wrong with want­ing to be an in­sider or want­ing oth­ers to see you in a pos­i­tive light. That’s just hu­man. But if you lean on the same phrases over and over, you might not help oth­ers un­der­stand who you are or the depth and ra­tio­nale be­hind your ideas.

And as the Work­front sur­vey shows, peo­ple do no­tice when you’re par­rot­ing, and do­ing it too much puts them off. The am­bi­gu­ity and vague­ness can stran­gle pro­duc­tiv­ity, too. None of this does any­thing to fos­ter in­no­va­tion. So be brave enough to leave the path of least resistance.

Prac­tice speak­ing with friends, with the ob­jec­tive of al­low­ing any­one to fol­low your thoughts, re­gard­less of their back­ground or in­dus­try.

The more you can con­verse with fo­cused sim­plic­ity, the more you truly can lead and pull peo­ple to­gether.

Wanda Thi­bodeaux is a free­lance writer and the pro­pri­etor of Tak­ing­dic­ta­


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