Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Most Annoying, Overused Words in the Workplace

dictionary entry Every organization, profession and industry has its own specialized language that can often be virtually incomprehensible to outsiders. Sometimes, it’s just a concise way to communicate a complex concept to those already in the “know.” For example, words that public relations professionals use all the time — like “metrics,” “thought leadership” and “segmentation” — often don’t mean the same thing to CEOs, COOs or CIOs. This can be a problem.

But sometimes jargon is used purposely to impress or confuse. This is bad. Very bad. Using imprecise or bewildering language not only short-circuits communication, it can also leave the listener frustrated — or even angry. Instead of building bridges, sloppy jargon creates a divide.

I was reminded of this when I read the results of a recent survey by the staffing services firm, Accountemps (via Neatorama).

One hundred and fifty senior executives with the nation’s 1,000 largest companies were asked, “What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?” Their answers:

  • Leverage (e.g., “We intend to leverage our investment in IT infrastructure across multiple business units to drive profits.”)

  • Reach out (e.g., “Remember to reach out to customers impacted by the change.”)

  • It is what it is (e.g., “The server is down today, and clients are irate. It is what it is.”)

  • Viral (e.g., “Our video has gone viral.”)

  • Game changer (e.g., “Transitioning from products to solutions was a game changer for our company.”)

  • Disconnect (e.g., “There is a disconnect between what the consumer wants and what the product provides.”)

  • Value-add (e.g., “We have to evaluate the value-add of this activity before we spend more on it.”)

  • Circle back (e.g., “I’m heading out of the office now, but I will circle back with you later.”)

  • Socialize (e.g., “We need to socialize this concept with our key stakeholders.”)

  • Interface (e.g., “My job requires me to interface with all levels of the organization.”)

  • Cutting edge (e.g., “Our cutting-edge technology gives us a competitive advantage.”)

Accountemps conducted a similar survey in 2004. The following “Hall-of-Fame” buzzwords were cited in both surveys:

  • At the end of the day

  • Synergy

  • Solution

  • Think outside the box

  • On the same page

  • Customer-centric

My thoughts? Used sparingly and appropriately, buzzwords can be a great form of business shorthand. Used lavishly, out of context and without forethought, they make the speaker sound like a lazy, unimaginative, middle-management wannabe.

Technorati Tags: Accountemps, thought leadership, metrics, segmentation, value-add, game-changer, Synergy


Anonymous Hannah said...

It was really interesting that you talked about buzz words since that was one of the topics taught in my Journalism class today. I agree with the point that buzz words are to impress or confuse and also get annoying. It makes more sense to use every day language to get a point across instead of relying on cliches, also that makes it seem more genuine. Looking at the list of buzzwords the "think outside the box" phrase is something that I know I have heard too many times. Maybe the best place for such thoughts is in the planning process for personal use or behind the scenes with those who will understand what you are talking about and will then use that and transform it into a better presentation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 12:58:00 PM  

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